Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 6 (June 2003)

Spotlight - 6/03


Nonlinear animation capability is the most important new feature in trueSpace 6.5, Caligari's modeling and animation package for Web designers, game developers, and illustrators. TrueSpace 6.5 has a completely rewritten animation engine that now allows users to create animations from clips of motion sequences, defining low-level behaviors in the program's Keyframe view, then editing and combining the behaviors in its new Clip-view editor. This work flow has been designed to appeal to game developers in particular, as the ability to separate low- and high-level editing enables users to experiment more flexibly with various animation scenarios, and thus accelerate their game action tests.
Image courtesy Oliver Röhe




Zac Mansfield, multimedia manager for Nanometer Technologies (Paso Robles, CA), is a longtime trueSpace user who has beta-tested Version 6.5. Mansfield uses trueSpace to design brochures, magazine ads, training CDs, and Web sites. " I like to use 3D images of products because I can control the lighting and scenes much easier than in the real world," he says. In Version 6.5, "The first new tool I started using was Geometry Paint. Its ability to place randomized objects across the surface of other objects is a time-saver." He also cited the program's physics simulation engine as a helpful upgrade: "It's now faster and has more capabilities. With speedier calculations and the collision-detection system, trueSpace can now handle some of the animation workload."

Improvements to trueSpace's modeling environment include control over object detail, such as selective surface subdivisions, which allow users to add extra features like wrinkles around a character's eyes without significantly increasing the polygon count of the overall model. A new surface healing tool closes gaps that occur when NURBS are converted to polygons. And the program has a new, more streamlined interface. TrueSpace 6.5 runs on Windows systems and costs $595. —Jenny Donelan

Caligari; www.caligari.com

Maxon Computer's Cinema 4D modeling, rendering, and animation software has never had quite the popularity of its big-name counterparts—Alias|Wavefront's Maya, Discreet's 3ds max, and Softimage's XSI—in professional digital content creation environments. Nevertheless, it has been used in the creation of countless film and television projects. Over the years, Cinema 4D has had several advantages, including power and flexibility, a sub-$1000 price, and its commitment to the Mac platform. Others companies, such as Alias|Wavefront, have launched Mac-compatible versions of their programs in recent years, but Maxon has always developed for the Mac, which has earned the company a number of Mac-loyal 3D animators.

The latest version of Cinema 4D, Release 8.1 includes a number of maintenance fixes, as expected in an incremental release, but it also boasts some new features, including the addition of HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imagery) to the program's Advanced Render Module. New particle effects include the Blurp operator, which can fragment an object, then rebuild it into a different shape, and MatterWaves, which lets users control particle emissions using lights or textures. The new release also features improved OpenGL functionality, with new support for hardware-accelerated lighting. Flash and ShockWave 3D output is now enhanced, as is the program's ability to handle imported models created in NURBS applications.




Cinema 4D 8.1 runs on Windows and Macintosh OS X-based machines. The Release 8.1 update is free to owners of Release 8.0. The base Cinema 4D package itself costs $595. Optional modules such as Advanced Render are priced separately. —JD

Maxon Computer; www.maxon.net




PRODUCTS | Animation

Kaydara, a company known for making character-animation and motion-capture tools, has introduced a new product that will enable the integration of live video and real-time animation in broadcast environments. Kaydara Online 4.0 is a software and hardware system based on the company's MotionBuilder animation software. Features particular to Kaydara Online include an integrated chroma keyer, audio delay, real-time triggers to control body movements and expressions, real-time voice recognition for mouth movements, and real-time shadows and reflections. The system includes both off-line and online tools for design, setup, and playback of 3D and 2D content, and is compatible with HDTV-resolution productions.

Potential users of Kaydara Online include those creating broadcast content for news, game shows, talk shows, and sporting events. The company notes that the product is especially suited to broadcast productions involving real-time 3D characters driven by a puppeteer.




Kaydara Online is a Windows-based system that includes a 3DBoxx workstation from Boxx Technologies. The product is scheduled to ship this summer at a price not yet announced. —JD

Kaydara; www.kaydara.com




PRODUCTS | Graphics cards

ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro visual processing unit (VPU), which is a fancy name for an admittedly fancy chip, began shipping this spring, and graphics cards based on the VPU are now available to OEM, retail, distribution, and online customers. The 9800 Pro supports OpenGL and Microsoft's DirectX 9. It features ATI's SmoothVision 2.1, de-signed to deliver clear, sharp textures without sacrificing frame rates, 128-bit full floating-point precision that enables billions of color variations, and the company's Catalyst 3D acceleration software.

The users who will be most interested in the Radeon 9800 Pro are game players, and ATI has designed the VPU to provide an immersive, near-cinematic experience for players of the latest games. Cards come with up to 256mb of DDR memory and a 256-bit memory interface that enables real-time 3D graphics. According to the company, this is the first time that 256mb of DDR have been available to game players. An 8-pixel pipeline architecture also greatly increases rendering power.




The Radeon 9800 Pro comes in two configurations: with 128mb of memory or 256mb. Boards based on the Radeon 9800 Pro are available for Windows-based machines. Prices start at $399. —JD

ATI; www.ati.com




PRODUCTS | Painting

The Deep Paint program from Right Hemisphere is a painting tool with which digital artists and graphics professionals can create images that appear to have depth. Photographs can also be altered to look like paintings or drawings. The program's editable brush and canvas settings enable artists to create effects that look like thick oils, acrylics, watercolors, chalk drawings, and nu-merous other media.

Version 2.0 of Deep Paint adds a new user interface that's streamlined and easier to access, and a customizable color palette. New preview features include a brush cursor and stroke preview that lets artists examine brush shape and stroke before commencing to paint.

New categories of brush presets include wet and dry materials, surface textures, and art "cloning" effects. Artists can also now use splines to define the path of a brush stroke more accurately. The new Deep Paint also ships with a demo version of ImageAlign Pro, which enables the correction of perspective distortion in digital photographs.




Deep Paint Version 2 is available as a plug-in to Adobe Systems' Photoshop or as a stand-alone product. It supports the Wacom Intous or a compatible pressure-sensitive tablet. The cost of the Windows-based software is $199. Right Hemisphere also makes Deep Paint 3D, a $995 package for painting and texturing 3D models. —JD

Right Hemisphere; www.righthemisphere.com




USER FOCUS | Web

When MTV debuted in 1981, it changed the music industry forever. Prophetically, the around-the-clock music video cable station selected the song "Video Killed the Radio Star" to usher in a new era for music and musicians. As a result, performers could no longer hide behind their lyrics and notes. To be successful, they had to have dynamic visuals to accompany their songs.

Today, the Web and other electronic media are affecting musicians in much the same way as MTV did 20 years ago. It makes no difference if the person is a newcomer on the music scene or a veteran, he or she needs the extra edge to increase record sales. One star to recognize the value of such visuals is Alanis Morissett.

Not long ago, Michael Elins, owner of Michael Elins Pictures, and Bob Self, an independent contractor, began working with Morissett's record label, Maverick Records, to develop a cross-media campaign for Alanis Morissett's special DVD-CD release Feast on Scraps: Inside Under Rug Swept. The imagery fuses high-concept images, music, and lyrics to tell a compelling story.
Musicians such as Alanis Morissett are using dynamic visual imagery on their Web sites to accompany their songs.©2003 Michael Elins.




The project evolved from a short online animation Elins and Self did for the New York Times Magazine's Web site that accompanied its print piece featuring the singer. "We had file-size limitations, so what appeared there was very basic," Elins says. However, after seeing the print and online selections, Maverick asked to see more. So Elins dug into his notebook for inspiration to find ways to extend the 3.4-second piece into one that spanned the length of Morissett's song "Precious Illusion."

Expanding on the stills, Elins and Self created a "moving segment" that now appears on Morissett's Web site (www.alanis.com). The DVD also contains a link to that site. At the core of the motion graphics are several photos Elins shot of Morissett that he then scanned and imported into Adobe Systems' Photoshop. Self then animated the imagery in Adobe's LiveMotion and After Effects, and supplemented the production with 3D graphics generated in Alias|.Wavefront's Maya. The result is an engaging visual experience that hits a high note with fans. —Karen Moltenbrey

KEY TOOLS: Photoshop, LiveMotion, After Effects; Adobe Systems www.adobe.com




USER FOCUS | Multimedia

Holy Rollers and high rollers might seem like strange bedfellows, but Bally Gaming is betting on the pair's compatibility.

Recently, Bally hired DMA Animation in New York City to create two minutes of animation for its slot machines featuring Dana Carvey's Church Lady character from the television show Saturday Night Live (SNL).

On SNL, the character is known for her acerbic wit and quips. Usually seated behind a desk, the Church Lady has a host of quirky mannerisms that made the character a favorite among SNL viewers. Translating these actions into an engaging animation was challenging for DMA. "It was essential that we master the way she positions herself in the chair and the visual punctuation she provides as she purses her lips or tucks her chin into her neck," says animation director Tony Caio.

DMA created animations of SNL's Church Lady character for Bally's slot machines. Image courtesy DMA Animation.




The artists used Cambridge Animation Systems' Animo, which let them work with initial line drawings so they could precisely reproduce Carvey's movements. All the artwork was hand-drawn and then scanned into Animo's digital ink and paint program, where it was animated. Backgrounds were generated in Adobe Systems' Photoshop, and composited with the animation using Adobe's After Effects. The team also added 3D elements created in Alias|.Wavefront's Maya.

All players get a glimpse of the animation, but those who make it past the initial game level are treated to a longer, more sophisticated sequence of the Church Lady in action.

Bally and DMA are currently working on another game-machine animation featuring the characters from SNL's "Wayne's World" skit. —KM

KEY TOOL: Animo, Cambridge Animation Systems www.cambridgeanimation.com




USER FOCUS | Film

In the action-packed film Bulletproof Monk from MGM Pictures, a ruthless, aging villain spends his life pursuing a Tibetan martial arts master. The film tells the story of Monk, whose duty for the past 60 years has been to protect a powerful ancient scroll. The story opens with a 1943 prologue as Monk concludes his training and assumes his role as protector, at which time he also assumes his mentor's powers that keep him young, able, and of course, bulletproof.

Moments after Monk's graduation, the monastery is attacked by Nazis led by a Commander Struker, but Monk escapes with the scroll. Sixty years later, Monk surfaces, seeking a successor to watch over the scroll. But an older and more relentless Struker remains in pursuit, hoping the secrets of the scroll will make him young again. In the final scene, Struker gets his wish.

In most scenes, actor Karel Roden, who plays Struker, wore makeup that made him appear old. But for one scene in which an aged Struker transitions into his younger self, a digital solution was used instead. Making this transition easier to accomplish was the fact that early in the production, John Sullivan, visual effects supervisor, had ordered digital scans of the primary actors in the film, including Roden, so that unexpected postproduction changes could be accommodated more easily. While the transformation scene was not unexpected, having the facial data—which was acquired with Eyetronics' ShapeCam digital scanner—made the process far easier.

Using digital technology, Blur transformed the older Struker character into his younger self. Image courtesy Eyetronics.




First, technicians conducted 3D scans of Roden, both with old-age makeup and without. This was done with a hand-held ShapeCam system consisting of a digital camera and special flash devices, which enabled the technicians to capture dimensional and texture information about the actor's face. Eyetronics then processed the scans into 3D models, which were provided to animators at Blur Studio, a Venice, California, effects house, that generated the effects for the scene. Because of resolution detail and density problems, however, Blur only used the scan models as a reference for rebuilding the mesh by hand in Discreet's 3ds max. The final textures were derived from film plates shot during production.

Blur was subcontracted to generate these shots by Boy Wonder Visual Effects, which was responsible for approximately 500 other visual effects sequences in the film. Among those were shots featuring a virtual Chow Yun-Fat (Monk), also generated from scan data acquired by Eyetronics, for scenes requiring complex and physically impossible stunt work. —KM

KEY TOOL: ShapeCam, Eyetronics www.eyetronics.com




The article "Layer by Layer" (Computer Graphics World, April 2003, pg. 20) incorrectly featured images by Frantic Films rather than CIS Hollywood, whose effects work for the film The Core was detailed in the story. The article should have contained an image such as the one at the bottom, which is from the 50-shot digital sequence by CIS that shows The Virgil plowing through the earth's crust, mantle, and outer core.





Images including the one above, which accompanied the article, were generated by Frantic Films. These plates, tracked with 2d3's boujou, were shot on a stage with plastic-crystal set pieces. The group developed custom shaders that it then used to extend the set pieces and remove or replace the crystals. Frantic Films' 3D supervisor Conrad Dueck and his team used Discreet's 3ds max to render the crystal elements and the debris, and to create the synthetic lava.

Frantic Films also developed tools to simulate splashes as debris rains down across the various lava shots. According to president Chris Bond, the most difficult part of this process was getting the splashes to "stick" to the undulating surface of the displaced lava. At first, the artists attempted to track the splashes in 2D with various mattes, but in the end they accomplished the task with a shader at the displacement level.

The artists composited the shots with eyeon Software's Digital Fusion. The team did extensive color correction, heat masks, and distortions, and added glows. This was done under the direction of Bond and Greg McMurry, the film's visual effects supervisor. —The Editors




TECHNOLOGY | Interface

Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan have created a unique interface that simulates the forces, sounds, and tastes associated with biting into food. The Food Simulator device generates resistance to virtual objects based on test data obtained from a special film-like sensor wrapped around real food as it was being chewed. The sound of biting—which is played through a speaker that simulates bone vibration—is synchronized with the biting action. And the chemical sensation of taste is created by a micro injector at the end of the interface that emits vapors comprising various combinations of the five taste elements: sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and smell. Potential uses for the Food Simulator, which will be demonstrated at the Emerging Technologies exhibit at SIGGRAPH 2003, include aiding research into chewing difficulties experienced by elderly people and providing data about the degree of biting resistance preferred by the general population, which could lead to the design of new foods. —Phil LoPiccolo




TECHNOLOGY | Haptics

p--Image courtesy ACM and the University of Tokyo.A new feedback system that converts visual data into skin sensations has been introduced by developers at the University of Tokyo. Called SmartTouch, the new haptics-based device combines a thin electro-tactile display with sensors mounted on the skin so the wearer can "touch" visual information. To create complex tactile sensations, SmartTouch produces an electrical current in the various types of receptors in the skin to induce nerve activity. When the sensors come in contact with objects shown on the display, SmartTouch changes the electric field distribution at the skin surface, taking into account the different placement of the skin's sensory nerves to create precise tactile representations of the image. The project—which will also be on display at SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technology exhibit—focuses primarily on visual-to-tactile translation, but other sensory information could be translated to touch, as well. Even tactile-to-tactile conversion could be achieved, such that if the system's tactile sensors were more sensitive than unaided human sensing abilities, a person's tactile experiences could be enhanced. Ultimately, if the technology could be made negligibly thin, it could serve as a new functional layer of skin. —PL







MARKET OUTLOOK

Fast Facts

Eight out of 10 postproduction studios list nonlinear editing as the major type of work done at their facilities.

One in five visual effects studios report that they plan to buy NLE systems in 2003, and of these, most say they will buy high-end versus mid-range systems.

Some 60 percent of visual effects companies say they are working on corporate/industrial videos versus 46 percent that are making television commercials and 38 percent that are creating other television content.

More than half (54 percent) of visual effects businesses have fewer than four full-time employees, and another 28 percent are freelancers. These two groups account for nearly 29,000 individual businesses.

Source: TrendWatch, Inc. (www.trendwatch.com)




NEWS

In Brief

Eon Reality (Irvine, CA), a developer of interactive visual content management software, has formed a partnership with InterSense (Burlington, MA), a manufacturer of precision motion tracking technology, to provide an integrated platform for developers of tracked immersive and interactive visualization systems.... Discreet (Montreal) has announced that the name of its new real-time system for digital grading and color correction is lustre. The new product is based on technology from Colorfront (Budapest, Hungary), with which Discreet formed an exclusive partnership earlier this year.... Fakespace Systems (Kitchener, Ontario) announced that it has finalized its merger with Mechdyne Corp. (Marshalltown, IA). Both companies develop advanced visualization systems. The entity resulting from the merger will be known as Fakespace Systems. The new company will continue to focus on markets such as energy, the federal government, manufacturing, life sciences, and education, but it will also explore areas such as enterprise-wide visualization.
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