Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 5 (May 2003)

Side Effects Reveals a New Houdini


As Side Effects Software readies Version 6 of its procedural modeling and animation software, Houdini, it has announced early access for Houdini Apprentice users. The Apprentice program lets 3D artists develop advanced skills while using a free learning edition of Houdini and training materials from Side Effects and other partners.

Houdini 6 will offer workflow enhancements such as tools for creating, publishing, and managing Houdini digital assets within existing production environments, improved character animation tools, global illumination rendering, interactive light and camera controls, and an embedded help browser that can run interactive training materials.





Houdini Version 6 is scheduled to ship this spring. The software runs on Windows NT, Linux, Irix, and Solaris systems. Costs start at $1299 and range from there according to product configuration. —Jenny Donelan

Side Effects Software;
www.sidefx.com




postproduction

Version 3 of MatchMover Professional, the automatic tracking tool from RealViz, is scheduled for release this summer. This latest version, under the code name "Corsica," has already been in trial use at several post-production houses.





MatchMover Professional automatically tracks 3D camera data and motion from videos and film sequences, but also offers the option of manual tracking. Users can move between manual and automatic tracking without disturbing the overall workflow, using the former for precision and fine-tuning and the latter for faster, more efficient tracking.

New features in Version 3 include handling of motion control data, 3D object model-based tracking, 3D tracking of cameras and multiple objects in the same session, handling of survey points, and a new graph editor toolbox.

Version 3 of MatchMover runs on Windows and Linux platforms. A Mac OS X-compatible version is slated for release this fall. (This is the first version of the software that has been available for the Mac platform.) The cost is to be announced. —JD

RealViz;
www.realviz.com




broadcast cards

The HD|Vengeance from Digital Voodoo is, according to its manufacturer, the first uncompressed high-definition 10-bit SDI broadcast design card with two HD-SDI outputs and one HD-SDI input. The card is compatible with all high-definition design applications for the Macintosh, and users can work with uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2:4 or 4:4:4:4 dual-link video directly in YUV colorspace. Because the HDI|Vengeance features simultaneous SDI standard-definition down conversion, notes the company, users can view high-definition video on a standard-definition SDI monitor, thus saving themselves the expense of a high-definition monitor.





Digital Voodoo has also introduced the HD|Iridium XP, a high-definition output-only broadcast design card for Mac OS X systems that features two 10-bit broadcast SDI outputs.

HD|Vengeance runs on Apple Xserve and Apple G4 dual-processor PowerMacs. It costs $11,995 and is bundled with Digital Voodoo's Media Transfer application, which permits frame-accurate capture and insertion to and from RS-422 controllable digital tape decks. HD|Iridium XP is priced at $7995 and also comes with Media Transfer. —JD

Digital Voodoo;
www.digitalvoodoo.net




video editing

Digital media manufacturer Pinnacle Systems has introduced Liquid chrome, a video editing and compositing system that incorporates Pinnacle's Liquid editing application, its Targa 3000 compositing engine, and its K2 single-chip 3D DVE (digital video effects) system. Liquid chrome is the latest in Pinnacle's family of Liquid networked editors, which includes Liquid blue for multi-format broadcast environments, Liquid silver for less effects-intensive MPEG-2 post editing, and Liquid purple for low-cost software-based digital video editing applications.





Liquid chrome is designed to provide powerful editing tools and real-time effects at a reasonable price. It features extensive real-time 2D and 3D DVE capability, four real-time video streams, unlimited layering, and the processing of complex effects without the interruption of workflow. Other features include intuitive contextual menus and an easily configurable environment.

A complete Pinnacle Liquid chrome turnkey system without storage costs $24,995. Existing Liquid silver systems can be upgraded for $6995. —JD

Pinnacle Systems;
www.pinnaclesys.com




modeling|animation

Over the past year, most of the major 3D modeling and animation software vendors have lowered prices or repackaged their powerful (and expensive) products in an attempt to woo a new category of user. One of the latest such efforts is Alias|Wavefront's Maya Productivity Pack, designed to provide digital artists new to 3D animation with a user-friendly and relatively affordable introduction to the Maya modeling and animation software. In order to do this, the company has created a bundle that incorporates the Maya Complete 4.5 software with training and support (including telephone support).





Instructional materials include The Art of Maya and five Learning Maya books: Beginner's Guide, Foundation, Character Rigging and Animation, Rendering, and Modeling for Animation.

The Maya Productivity Pack runs on Windows 2000/XP and Mac OS X operating systems. The bundle costs $2179. —JD

Alias|Wavefront;
www.aliaswavefront.com




games

In the recently released computer game Post Mortem from The Adventure Company and Microids, players step back in time to 1920s Paris as they assume the role of American expatriate Gus MacPherson, a retired private detective from New York City with a knack for solving strange and unusual cases. Currently pursuing the life of an artist, MacPherson suddenly finds himself returning to his true art when he is hired to investigate a series of mysterious, brutal killings.

To solve the case, players visit rich, realistic locales and scour 360-degree panoramic scenes for clues. Along the way, they utilize the game's unique conversation engine to interrogate a large cast of intriguing characters essential to the investigation. When interacting with a character, the player is presented with a number of options concerning what he or she would like to ask of or say to the character to obtain information about the murders.





"Everything you say in the game affects the way other characters respond to you and interact with you, and your selections collectively affect the outcome of the game," says Stéphane Brochu, lead designer at Microids in Montreal, Quebec. "We also tried to make the conversations take different paths without allowing the player to backtrack, forcing the person to make decisions based on how the conversations evolved and then deal with the consequences."

According to Brochu, the idea behind the proprietary engine is to capture, as much as possible, the natural flow of a conversation, or at least how we're used to seeing it presented in feature films. To this end, the team used different camera angles inside Discreet's 3ds max to cut between characters as they are speaking, as opposed to using a single camera angle, as most games do.

Another unique aspect of Post Mortem is its thriller "film noir" style. Using 3ds max, the artists created a dark, moody atmosphere to enhance the plot's paranormal happenings. Despite using this edgy look, the artists remained faithful to the period, thoroughly researching the era and the city before creating the realistic virtual models. —Karen Moltenbrey

3ds max, Discreet
www.discreet.com




film

Every schoolchild in Wales is familiar with "Y Mabinogi," a collection of ancient Celtic legends. To others, however, the adventures of the princes, princesses, wizards, and monsters in Otherworld, the upcoming animated film based on the legends, will be new. Hoping to share the drama of these Welsh tales with worldwide viewers, Welsh television station S4C hired the Cardiff-based production company Cartwn Cymru to bring the stories to animated life in two languages. A Welsh version, Y Mabinogi, toured cinemas in Wales last fall, and the English version, Otherworld, is to appear on TV next year.

Director Derek Hayes and crew, with help from The Moving Picture Company (MPC), developed a dense, rich look for the movie, which is mainly 2D animation painted and composited in Cambridge Animation Systems' Animo. The movie employs a mix of elements, however. It begins and ends with live action, includes mixes of animation and live action throughout, and also utilizes CG and photographic elements.

A wicker monster created in Maya was Otherworld's only 3D character, though the film employed additional 3D elements such as a whirlpool, a cauldron, and a fish.




Hayes says the visual style of the movie is collage-like in nature. "MPC had a lot of work to do to make its CG backgrounds and characters fit in with the animation style," he says. To do so, MPC used tools including Alias|Wavefront's Maya and Pixar's RenderMan to create 3D elements such as boats, fish, a monster, and water. A special program was written to create the latter, for which the director required realistic motion, but with a painterly look.

The visual balance between reality and fantasy reflects the movie's theme, which its makers describe as "the conflict between fate, magic, and personal choice." S4C is hoping that mixture will draw viewers into its "otherworldly" zone. —Jenny Donelan

Animo, Cambridge Animation Systems
www.cambridgeanimation.com

Maya, Alias|Wavefront
www.aliaswavefront.com




digital video

Although it did not receive an Academy Award nomination, the critically acclaimed Australian film Rabbit-Proof Fence has garnered numerous industry honors during the past few months, including Best Film at the Australian Film Industry awards for its focus on the forced resettlement of Aboriginal children in the 1930s.

Artists used CGI to alter the landscape. Top picture is the original shot; below is the finished version.




Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the true story of three young Aboriginal girls in the Australian government's resettlement program and of their escape and subsequent 1500-mile journey to rejoin their ancestral community. Trekking through the parched, empty landscape and relying on their tribal survival skills, the girls search for the one feature that can guide them home—the massive barrier fence, constructed as a bulwark against a plague of rabbits, that spans the continent. When it was completed in 1907, the fence was the longest in the world. Today, large sections are still maintained.




For the movie, director Phillip Noyce wanted to illustrate the vastness of the fence by using a minute-long shot, filmed from a helicopter, showing the structure extending into the distant horizon from the girls' homeland. "It wasn't cost-effective or practical for the production department to build a hundred miles of real fence for this shot, so we completed the task with computer graphics," says Jason Bath, visual effects producer at Fuel International, a Sydney-based effects facility.

According to Bath, once the group ventured down the digital path for this scene, they were permitted to add other CG elements to create a "richer" shot. In addition to the long stretch of fence, the artists also constructed buildings and added matte-painted patches to give the landscape a weathered look and to add tire tracks along the fence. "We wanted to subtly illustrate the increased human intrusion brought to the region by the fence," he explains.

While filming the fence shot, the group added onboard camera pans, requiring the team to track the shot. Because of the helicopter's height, tracking markers would be inefficient. Alternatively, the group used 2d3's boujou, which tracked the scene by locking onto the texture of the scrub covering most of the landscape.

To construct the 3D models of the fence and buildings, the artists used Alias|Wavefront's Maya. Next, they used Adobe Systems' Photoshop to texture the models and create the matte patches and shadows along the fence. Artist Dave Morley composited the scene using Apple Computer's Shake, then digitally applied a grade to the shot, thereby providing a contrast between it and the scenes showing the pre-Caucasian settlement. "This helped emphasize the passage of time," says Morley. —KM

Maya, Alias|Wavefront
www.aliaswavefront.com

boujou, 2d3
www.2d3.com




broadcast

Rhinoceros Visual Effects and Design in New York City, along with director Dennis Manarchy of Manarchy Films in Chicago, used computer graphics to transport a "celebrity" cooking show hostess from an "on-set" kitchen to a French lavender field in a television commercial for Colgate-.Palmolive's aromatherapy dishwashing liquid.

"The entire spot was shot on a studio set in Chicago," notes Rhinoceros executive producer Rick Wagonheim. "There were no fields, no exterior cinematography, no location work or scouting. Instead, we turned 'indoor' into 'outdoor' with computer graphics."

CGI created this lush outdoor setting for a TV commercial.




Using actual lavender props for reference, artist Arman Matin built the basic 3D flower model in Alias|Wavefront's Maya, then Vico Sharabani cloned the plant using Discreet's inferno. Later, artist Ji Yoon assumed the role of "digital gardener," using inferno to fill the landscape with the photorealistic virtual flowers. —KM

Maya, Alias|Wavefront
www.aliaswavefront.com

inferno, Discreet
www.discreet.com




displays

A novel large-screen technology, in which illuminated fog is sandwiched between two layers of smooth-flowing air, will be introduced this July in the Emerging Technologies exhibit at SIGGRAPH 2003 by researchers from Tampere University of Technology, Finland. Because the Fog Screen is composed of air, it allows for true pass-through applications, such as in museums, science centers, theaters, and theme parks. The display can be translucent—as demonstrated by the butterfly image below—or fully opaque. The developers hope to extend this "breakthrough" technique and merge it with other technologies. For example, a sequence of Fog Screens could be combined with a human motion-tracking system so that participants could experience a new way of walking through virtual environments. —Phil LoPiccolo

Image copyrighted and reprinted with permission from ACM and Tampere University of Technology.







user interfaces

A human-computer interface that transforms human body language into 3D paintings in real time has been devised by a team of developers at City University of Hong Kong.

Image copyrighted and reprinted with permission from ACM and City University of Hong Kong.




The Body Brush, which will also be demonstrated at the SIGGRAPH 2003 Emerging Technologies exhibit, uses a motion analysis system developed by the researchers to capture human motion data and transform it into colorful shapes in a virtual 3D space. Artists have proposed creative uses for the technology in visual and performance art. Psychologists believe the interface could be used as a biofeedback mechanism or for art therapy. And educators feel that it could be an effective and entertaining way for children to explore the relationship between the human body and human expression. —PL




Donovan Moxey, co-founder of voice-to-animation technology company LipSinc, which ceased operations last summer, has launched a new company, Interactive Multimedia Solutions (Research Triangle Park, NC) that will focus on providing automated voice-to-animation products for the multimedia market. The new company has licensed LipSinc's proprietary technology.... The California division of effects producer Cinesite (Hollywood, CA) is closing its VFX division, which developed visual effects for the film industry. The Hollywood office will now focus on long-form digital film remastering, whereas the London Cinesite office will handle special effects—both digital and practical.... NCsoft Corp. (Seoul, South Korea), an online game developer, has acquired ArenaNet (Seattle, WA), a game development studio responsible for properties such as Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo, as well as the gaming network Battle.net. —JD




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