Wave 606 8/16/96
** THE WAVE REPORT ON DIGITAL MEDIA **
3D --- Media Creation --- Shared Space
Published by 4th WAVE, Inc.
Issue #606 8/16/96
Special SIGGRAPH Issue #2
Voodoo Graphics to Support BRender
On August 14, 3Dfx Interactive and Argonaut Software announced that
BRender drivers would be available for the high-performance Voodoo Graphics
chipset beginning in September for DOS and Windows 95. With a focus on
entertainment software, more than 20 BRender/Voodoo Graphics 3rd-party
software titles (games) are being developed for the holiday season.
MCI Teams with Tokyo Internet
MCI announced this week that they have signed a 5-year, $21 million
contract with Tokyo Internet for a private 45 Mbps (DS-3) connection with
the InternetMCI backbone. Tokyo Internet, one of the largest Internet service
providers in Japan, offers Internet services to both consumers and businesses.
Fractal Design Detailer 1.0 Wins Best of Show
Detailer 1.0 from Fractal Design was selected for a Best of Show Award
at the recent MacWorld Expo in Boston. Detailer is a real time graphics
application that allows users to add color and texture to 2D and 3D objects
imported from other applications or created within Detailer. Detailer is
available for a Power Macintosh or PC-compatible running Windows 95 or
NT at a $499 suggested retail price. Versions for the Macintosh and Windows
will ship in Sept. and Oct. 1996, respectively. Contact: http://www.fractal.com
606.2 SIGGRAPH 96 Overview by Rob Glidden
The many tribes of the 3D media world met and mingled at SIGGRAPH in
New Orleans last week for the annual computer graphics show-of-shows. Academics,
tool makers, digital video companies and 3D fans of both the high and low
end varieties shared the exhibit hall, which some graphics enthusiasts
called "the New Comdex".
VRML continued its march to prominence and community maturation with
the last minute release of the much-heralded version 2.0 specification.
The 2.0 great leap forward offers the potential of a ubiquitous Net-centric
3D viewer environment. Both Netscape (Live3D) and Microsoft (DimensionX)
promised VRML viewers for their Internet browsers.
The Electronic Theater, which highlights the year's best in 3D, was
dominated by commercials and film clips any TV watcher has seen many times
already. Of particular note though was "Chicken Crossing", an
impressive simulation/promo for Microsoft's upcoming Talisman hardware
architecture that shamed any demo for Microsoft's Direct3D. Also impressive:
"Fibonacci and the Golden Mean", which dramatically and effectively
showed the educational power of graphics.
606.3 The WAVE SIGGRAPH Awards by Rob Glidden
What's a magazine without some awards? And what better show than SIGGRAPH
to honor the 3D industry's best efforts, particularly those likely to be
missed by those less daring print rags?
Best Product Relaunch: CosmoGL
CosmoGL, SGI's optimized version of OpenGL from 3Dlabs, was happily
shown by SGI in a head to head comparison with Direct3D. Overall, the result
was a draw (slightly better image quality to CosmoGL), but as one observer
noted, a tie was a win for OpenGL, which has been dogged by a slow-as-molasses
stigma in the low to mid range of PC 3D applications (exactly the target
for 3Dlab's new Permedia chip set).
So what is the difference between CosmoGL and OpenGL? One SGI sales
person on the floor was overheard to say in essence, beats me, there was
some meeting and the message came down to start calling OpenGL by the name
Best 3D Cheat: Photoshop Radiosity
Real-time world builders love radiosity because it offers beautiful
view-independent scene lighting. But WAVE noticed examples of interesting
radiosity-like lighting effects in real time worlds on the show floor which
turned out, according to their creators, to simply be Photoshop touch-up
jobs of 2D textures.
Seems kind of a shame, given the zillions of academic papers over the
years at SIGGRAPH and elsewhere on radiosity.
Best "We Did Jurassic Park" Claim:
REM Infografica, of MetaReyes metaball fame, may have launched the mother-of-all-Jurassic-Park-claims.
It has seemed that so many 3D companies over the years have staked claims
for the 3D elements of the film Jurassic Park that there were simply no
claims left to make.
But REM Infographic may have hit on the topper: "It has been estimated
that "Jurassic Park" would have cost some $10 million less to
make if MetaReyes had been used instead of expensive physical models of
Best Technology Demo: Apple's Water
Apple's 3D strategy (QD3D, 3DMF, Rave et al) seemed alive and kicking
at SIGGRAPH, with Vertigo, Lightwave, and Positron moving products to the
Apple platform. Apple still awaits a cross-platform adoption win for QD3D
on the PC, but there are murmurs that there may indeed be a QD3D- based
PC 3D tool in the works from some quarter.
But most eye-catching was an Apple demo of realtime waves in a pool.
Part 3D, part Quicktime VR, part who-knows-what, but this realtime water
with its shimmering reflections was neat.
Best Funding Strategy: VRML
VRML-doubters take note: the VRML bandwagon launched at last year's
SIGGRAPH has turned into a veritable funding freight train, with several
companies repositioning into VRML-only companies and getting VC in the
The 2 VRML-funded categories: VRML authoring tools and multiuser 3D
But VC, like hope, springs eternal, and WAVE detected the siren call
of easy VC money in the posturing of several VRML fledglings (the good
thing about being so well funded is we can give away our product for so
long...). Will these companies and the VRML community manage to achieve
"compelling tools, standards, and profit-making cultures" (see
below) before the VC runs out?
Best Warning Flag Phrase: "Compelling
The phrase "compelling content" or its equivalent was an oft-heard
code word in realtime 3D tool, hardware, and OS-platform venues. Part yearning,
part romanticizing of a yet-to-materialize customer base for new 3D products
and platforms. As in "what we need now is compelling content to show
off the power of our chip/tool/standard".
As a safe bet you could probably say that any platform sporting a lot
of talk about "compelling content" probably doesn't have any
But from the realtime 3D content creator view, the lack of "compelling
content" is hardly surprising. At this early stage, many of the VRML
authoring tools seem to offer little more than "Look how easily you
too can create a textured spinning cube demo". Moreover, low cost
3D graphics boards with "compelling image quality" have yet to
ship in volume.
Also note that the VC funding round for VRML seemed to favor tools and
multiuser environments, with content creators perhaps classified as less
likely to generate "compelling equity value".
Best NT Backlash Story: Max 1.1 to Support Windows
Just when it was seeming that NT was a fait accompli as the defacto
professional PC 3D platform, Kinetix, original leader of the NT 3D movement,
has had a crisis of confidence. Version 1.1 will support Windows 95 as
well as NT (Max 1.0 would actually run under Win95 in addition to NT, but
was unsupported on that platform).
Reason: Max has shipped just 10,000 units in its first four months,
raising the question of what happened to the other 50,000 units of 3D Studio's
60,000+ installed base announced by Kinetix prior to the launch of Max.
Since the upgrade cost to Max was only $500, it is hard to imagine that
only one sixth of Kinetix's active installed base moved up to Max.
One problem, according to Kinetix officials, is that the education market
has balked at the cost of upgrading to NT.
Kinetix claims that Max 1.1 will run 30% faster on NT over Win95 on
the same machine (but there are no specific NT v. Win 95 graphics or application
benchmarks to back this up). But still, the major advantage of NT over
95 appears to be symmetrical multiprocessing, which only matters if you
have a dual CPU system.
So how big is the 3D NT graphics workstation market? WAVE heard estimates
of between 100,000 and 200,000 units. But with only 10,000 units of Max
shipped so far and 1200 NT Softimages it is hard to see where such an optimistic
market yet exists, other than possibly by including NT digital video and
Also note that each of the big 3 NT 3D tools has a multiplatform strategy
beyond NT: Max has Windows 95, Lightwave has Apple and Unix, and Softimage
has SGI (SGI Softimage sales are up since the release of the NT version,
Softimage head Daniel Langlois told WAVE at the show).
Best Wizard-of-Oz Demo: SGI's VRML Animations
SGI displayed a set of animated, talking VRML characters (the spider
is my favorite). A quick look at the file, however, showed that the approximately
5-second animation with sound took 1 or 2 megabytes of data. Hardly net-practical.
The promised VRML binary/compressed file standard (now to be developed
by Apple, IBM, and Paragraph) promises to fix things, but will linearly
interpolated key frame animations ever be adequately compressible?
Best 3D Internet Vision: Avatars on Hammer
Imagine an international convention of mice-like avatars dancing in
the night inside your 3D web page.
OZ Interactive demoed just such a vision with its VRML OZ Virtual multiuser
3D server. Seems somebody in SF put a 3D VRML model of a hammer on their
web site, and to test their multiuser system OZ employees use the top of
this hammer as a test avatar meeting ground. Yes, they showed a zoom-in
of the top of the slowly rotating hammer, where tiny Iceland-based avatars
were dancing and prancing. And you thought computer viruses were the only
pseudo life form living in your computer.
OZ Interactive, well-known for its Softimage OZ Shader Library, has
gone VRML and apparently raised significant VC. OZ hails from Iceland but
now sports a SF headquarters and branches in Reykjavik and LA. 40 employees,
and the only SIGGRAPH exhibitor with an employee "concept manager".
Soft2vrml: a free Softimage to VRML file converter, available for download
from the OZ website.
OZ VIRTUAL: A multiuser 3D environment that "layers real-time communications
and multi-participant interaction on top of a fast, fully-featured VRML
browser". Includes "Persona", an avatar system with customizable
clothes and behaviors (walk, fly, jump, wave, dance, etc.). Free beta in
August, shipping in fall, no final price announced.
http://www.oz-inc.com, 415 536-0500.
Best Graphics Board Feature: FireGL's Dual
If you are looking for 3D graphics board that will make you the envy
of your 3D cubicle-mates, check out Diamond's FireGL dual monitor board.
A little pricier than some other 3Dlabs' boards, but you can hook up two
monitors. This means that you can run something like Max on one monitor
and move some of its open windows over to the other monitor (as if the
two monitors were simply two windows onto the same, extra large desktop).
Best Foreign Destination: Maya
See below for Alias/Wavefront's second annual SIGGRAPH ode to Maya.
Most Schizophrenic Party: Microsoft's Thrall
Vampires are in, at least in some circles, but what the heck was that
party in a New Orleans mansion about?
The Convergence Hurts Award: HDTV
WAVE readers already know about the spreading battle pitting the computer
and film industries against broadcasters over progressive scan, variable
aspect ratio, and frame rates. SIGGRAPH attendees got a ringside view in
the panel on Advanced TV, where graphics luminary Alvy Ray Smith battled
miffed broadcast HDTV reps(can progressive scan signals be compressed as
well as interlaced signals or not?). No olive branches yet, as both sides
marveled post-match about the alien nature of the opposition.
606.4 Interesting Magazines at SIGGRAPH by
NT Studio Magazine, which handed out its premiere issue at SIGGRAPH,
covers NT-centric "professional digital production" for video,
animation, and interactive media.
VRMLSite Magazine offers "exciting articles on VRML, tutorials,
humor and the latest scoop on Java and VRML 2.0."
606.5 3D Clip Art Eases the Modeling Burden by
In the beginning, 3D modeling had to be done the hard way, by actually
typing in commands and scene descriptions in plain text to be rendered
at a later time. Then along came higher-level modeling tools that allowed
3D modeling to be done visually, letting the content developer interactively
place and modify objects in a scene with a (relatively) simple interface.
Although great strides in 3D modeling tools have been made over the
last few years, 3D modelers (the people, not the software) have begun to
realize that even with the current crop of user-friendly and powerful modeling
tools, modeling is still a time-consuming and often painstaking process.
In response, the rising popularity of 3D "clip art" companies
was seen at this year's SIGGRAPH with around 10 such companies present,
all with booths constantly swamped by onlookers.
Some notable 3D models (clip art) companies:
Viewpoint Datalabs: Announced the Summer '96 Edition Catalog, with more
than 5,000 3D models, including 1,500 new models. With prices ranging from
$25 to $700 individually, the models can also be purchased in groups as
either collections or libraries, with prices ranging from $695 to $14,995.
Acuris: Displayed their 8 major collections of models, including ClipModel
Library, David's House, The Modern House, Air Land & Sea, Textures,
3D-30, as well as two new collections: 18 Perfect People and Perfect People
SE, which feature 18 medium-resolution human models for $399 and 9 medium-resolution
human models for $199, respectively. http://www.acuris.com
REM Infografica: A young Spanish company, REM displayed their 3D Models
Bank, a collection of over 1,200 high-quality 3D objects, consisting mostly
of military, vehicle, ship and aircraft models. The models are currently
available on CD-ROM, and it was announced that they will be available on
their Web site in the near future. http://www.rem-infografica.es
3Name3D: Displayed their popular Cyberprops CD, which contains six locked
libraries of more than 100 low- to medium-resolution mesh objects each.
Each library is available in 3DS, DXF and OBJ file formats, and is available
for $395. They also announced that they would soon be adding six new libraries
to the collection. http://www.ywd.com
Other companies showcasing 3D models collections included 3rd Dimension
Technologies, Artbeats Software, Digital Wisdom, Syndesis Corp., and Visible
606.6 Sense8 Announces WorldToolKit Direct
by Rob Glidden
Sense8 announced its WorldToolKit Direct at SIGGRAPH. WTK Direct "combines
the development and performance capabilities of WorldToolKit Release 6
with the real-time rendering technology of Microsoft Direct3D".
WorldToolKit Direct will be available in Q4 1996 and "is exceptionally
priced at $2995".
Sense8 has also added Internet support. WorldToolKit and World Up read
and write VRML 1.0, and VRML 2.0 support is planned. Free player plug-
ins are available for Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
606.7 Viewpoint Announces Free-Form Deformation
Patent Licensing by Rob Glidden
If Viewpoint Datalabs has its way, patent issues may soon effect many
corners of the 3D field, from the next generation of 3D clip art and 3D
standards to avatars, character animation and hardware acceleration.
In case you didn't know, free form deformation (FFD), used by virtually
every sophisticated modeling and animation package on the market, is a
patented technology. Viewpoint Datalabs owns the patent (No. 4,821,214,
filed April 17, 1986, issued 4/11/89, to expire April 2006) which it acquired
in 1994 from Dr. Thomas W. Sederberg and Brigham Young University. FFD
and GE's Marching Cubes patent are potentially significant patents that
have been lurking in the 3D software background for some time.
At SIGGRAPH, Viewpoint announced the first FFD licensee (Kinetix, see
below), a licensing structure ($.25 to $40 per unit), and hints at Viewpoint's
ultimate vision for FFD ("a critical link in creating "smart
models" and 3D geometry standards").
Free-form deformation, in Viewpoint's patent terms, is a lattice (think
3D jungle-gym) of points around an object. The lattice points influence
the points of the object--move the lattice points and the object changes
You may think of FFD as the "car-through-a-keyhole" or "dancing-credit-
cards" technique, but its potential could go deeper.
Viewpoint notes that FFD can be used to enhance "the realism of
computer generated character animations such as the folding and bulging
And even more, according to Martin Plaehn, Viewpoint press: "Free-Form
Deformation technology is a critically important method for bringing realism
to computer modeling and animation--such as lifelike moving characters
and avatars in new design, interactive education and entertainment applications.
. . . Additionally, this patented method can be meaningful when incorporated
into underlying hardware chip sets needed to accelerate computer graphics
What are the limits on the FFD patent? It may depend on how astutely
Viewpoint manages its patent base.
So far, it has been cautious, waiting over two years to announce a licensing
strategy, and then only when it already had a credible licensee (Kinetix)
in tow. And word is that Viewpoint does not intend to be heavy-handed,
sticking to bargaining chip negotiations and claiming only "outside-in"
lattices (bulging muscles with internal lattices may not be covered).
But Viewpoint may hit resistance on the viewer and standards fronts.
Patented technologies sometimes hit resistance in standards processes,
and there are alternative contenders for a potential next-gen smart model
standard (function curves, IK, solid model/surface engines).
Also, in a realtime environment the value of FFD would be as much on
the playback side as the editing side. Also, note that in the Internet-era
viewers tend to be free (from browsers to data-playback engines) and increasingly
do both editing and playback (nobody just wants to view data, they want
to interact with it, ala VRML 2.0). So to launch a FFD- based standard,
Viewpoint may have to bow to the winds of free viewers.
606.8 Alias/Wavefront Reintroduces Maya by
Alias/Wavefront introduced Maya again this year at SIGGRAPH, promising,
as it did at last year's SIGGRAPH, a next-gen successor to Alias/Wavefront
with breakthrough character animation capabilities. Delivery is promised
for Q1 97, with pricing unannounced but comparable to the existing PowerAnimator
In addition to "an architecture built for speed", Maya offers
the ability to "build characters with embedded behaviors and higher
level controls so that animators can quickly and intuitively interact with
them as digital puppets". Also, Maya is built around MEL (Maya Embedded
Language), a scripting language that supports all of the Maya commands.
In response, Softimage has started a distant-destination drumbeat for
Jakarta, version 4 of Softimage due out in 2H 97.
606.9 Kinetix Drops DEC Alpha Support by
Also at the show, Kinetix quietly announced that the long awaited DEC
Alpha version of Max was put on hold. Reason, according to Kinetix: insufficient
volume of Alpha NTs.
The Kinetix move reflects the consolidation of Pentiums as the major
graphics NT platform. Both NetPower and Deskstation, the leading NT players
for MIPS and Alpha, respectively, have bowed to the Pentium NT wave and
launched Pentium-based products.
606.10 On to LA SIGGRAPH '97 by Rob Glidden
August 3-8, 1997, LA Convention Center.
New stuff for '97: Online panels (would begin before the conference
and culminate in virtual and onsite panel presentations), Electric Garden
(LA version of the Digital Bayou), and SIGGRAPH TV.
312-644-6610 mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org
606.11 Microsoft Launches IE 3.0 by Rob
On Monday after SIGGRAPH, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer at a
low- key extravaganza in SF. It is "priced to sell", Bill Gates
told the launch audience.
Note that a VRML 2.0 plugin, promoted at SIGGRAPH by Microsoft through
its announcement of a licensing arrangement with DimensionX, was absent
from the launch event for IE 3.0. Browser plug-ins in general seem to be
moving to an increasingly secondary role as the "main event"
browsers have become multimedia, layout, and feature enabled. VRML, like
every other browser plug-in data type, will be fighting the "out-of-the-
plugin-and-into-the-browser" battle in the coming months.
606.12 Amelio Announces New Plans at MacWorld
by Jonathan Sunberg
At MacWorld in Boston, Apple's CEO, Gilbert F. Amelio, attempted to
convince 1500 attendees that "Apple is transitioning from a dialogue
that centers on survival to a dialogue that centers on excitement."
After sarcastically declaring that he believes the company "can eke
through" with "about $1.4 billion in the bank", Amelio laid
out his guidelines for success: Innovation, Loyal Customers & Developers,
Professional Management, and Value Delivery.
In the short term Amelio declared that Apple must work on the quality
of its products. He stated that although Apple's product quality is not
bad, "it could be a lot better, and the Powerbook will get fixed".
He also felt that the features in machines that customers love must be
maintained and focused on and the company must continue to work with and
inspire its developers.
Amelio's keynote also addressed a radical new procedure for operating
system rollouts. Instead of releasing a whole new system periodically,
Apple will put out upgrades backwardly compatible with existing code bases
every six months. "I think we'll be on a six-month cycle...a release
every six months. If we get up enough momentum, we might want to do it
more often than that. Our responsibility is to make sure our partners,
including the business community, know what's in the pipeline, know it's
coming and know when it's going to be there."
Amelio announced a delay in the Power PC based systems that conform
to the Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP), which were expected to
be released by the end of this year, until the second-half of next year.
His reasoning, "as important as CHRP is, I feel some of the other
things we have been talking about are even more (important). These things
include: the Internet, object-oriented technologies, and a new Copland
version of its operating system.
With the help of Frank Casanova, Director of Apple's Research Lab, Amelio
displayed its technology Meta Content Format (MCF) or code-name Project
X. The program transforms HTML-based data into a multi-layered graphics
presentation that allows users to view several layers of data at one time
rather than screen by screen. Casanova expects the product to be commercially
available by the end of this year or early next year. Among other showcased
items, was the Apple Data Detector. This software program pulls important
data from documents and narrows lengthy documents down to specific subject
By the end of his presentation Apple enthusiasts were excited and Amelio
walked off the stage with a rousing, standing ovation.
Copyright 1996 4th WAVE Inc.
May be redistributed in full for individual readership and posted to
newsgroups, Web, and FTP sites. May not be reprinted or redistributed for
profit. Short quotes are permitted but must be attributed to the WAVE Report
on Digital Media.