Issue: Volume 34 Issue 4: (April 2011)

Spotlight: Products


Autodesk Hits a New Suite Spot

Autodesk has revealed new releases of its digital entertainment creation software and middleware. The 2012 versions enable iterative workflows, help users manage complexity, and provide new creative tools.

“Our 2012 product releases harness the latest hardware technology to increase performance and deliver stunning graphics in the viewport,” says Marc Petit, Autodesk senior vice president, Media & Entertainment. “We have also enhanced interoperability and simplified pipeline integration, making it easier for our customers to take advantage of specialized tool sets, and provided new creative tools for modern production trends like virtual moviemaking and stereoscopic 3D production.”

Building on its success by offering packaged suites, Autodesk continued in this direction by unveiling its 2012 Entertainment Creation Suites that give artists and production facilities access to a range of creative tool sets at an attractive price. Artists can extend their familiar Autodesk 3ds Max or Maya workflow with intuitive tools for sculpting and texture painting, real-time character animation, and effects. Single-step interoperability and more consistent user interfaces in the suites enable artists to more easily utilize multiple products from the company; they also make specialized tool sets more accessible to the user.

The stars of the suites are the individual software applications, each sold separately as well as bundled in new packages. All the products in these Entertainment Creation Suites offer new features and enhancements. For instance, 3ds Max 2012 delivers a new accelerated graphics core, mRigids for dynamic rigid-body simulations in the viewport and new sculpting and painting enhancements, like the Clone brush. Maya 2012 provides significant enhancements to the viewport offering full-screen effects, editable motion trails for animation editing in the viewport, as well as new simulation options. Autodesk Softimage 2012 provides new procedural ICE modeling, integrated Syflex cloth simulation, stereoscopic capabilities, and multiple core SDK additions. Autodesk Mudbox 2012 delivers enhancements to the painting tool set, new UV and topology-independent workflows, practical posing tools, and improved large dataset handling. Autodesk MotionBuilder 2012 provides a new in-viewport stereoscopic display and camera rig, a unified interface and solver for Autodesk HumanIK 4.5 or 2012 middleware, as well as new tools for virtual moviemaking.

A stand-alone license for either Maya 2012 or 3ds Max 2012 costs $3495. The Entertainment Creation Suite Premium 2012, which offers Maya or Max, together with Softimage, Mudbox, and MotionBuilder software, costs $6495 (a 42 percent savings over purchasing the software separately). A stand-alone license for Softimage 2012 is priced at  $2995.

In addition, Autodesk announced creative finishing software for film, television, and postproduction. Autodesk Flame Premium combines high-end visual effects and finishing tools with real-time color grading in a single solution. The 2012 release features: tools for integrating ultra-realistic 3D lighting effects into composites; a comprehensive set of effects tools for finishing stereoscopic 3D projects; enhanced finishing workflows with CG pipelines; and tools for making 3D compositing as fast and interactive as traditional 2D compositing.

Autodesk Smoke 2012 offers a timeline-based, all-in-one creative solution for professional finishing on the Mac. The Smoke tool set spans color correction, compositing, 3D visual effects, and stereoscopic 3D, and features an efficient complementary workflow with Apple Final Cut Pro.

Autodesk also targeted the middleware market for gaming in an attempt to solve known runtime challenges by enabling programmers to focus on high-impact areas of development. To this end, an enhanced API in Autodesk Beast 2012 global-illumination middleware enables developers to integrate the eRnsT interactive lighting preview tool into custom game-level editors. Autodesk HumanIK 2012 character animation middleware now supports the next-generation portable entertainment system (code name: NGP) from Sony
Computer Entertainment, as well as the Apple iOS mobile platform, enabling more realistic character animation on the latest mobile gaming devices. And, Autodesk Kynapse 2012 artificial intelligence middleware focuses on improving runtime performance and making advanced features easier to use.


Intel Introduces Xeon E3 Family

Intel has optimized the second-generation Intel Core processor family to create the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family for professional performance on workstations.

When combined with the Intel C206 chipset, these processors power entry-level workstations that merge the traditional strengths of the professional workstation with a new processor-based Intel HD graphics technology to tackle entry-level data analysis, CAD, digital animation, and 3D imaging challenges.
 
he workstation platform features Intel’s first micro-architecture that combines visual and 3D graphics technology with performance-leading microprocessors on a single chip. This is the first entry-level workstation platform to integrate professional-level graphics technology, Intel HD Graphics P3000, onto the processor, enabling visual and 3D graphics capabilities previously only available to entry-level workstation users with a separate graphics card.

Intel is also extending support for its vPro technology to these workstations, offering a broad set of security features that makes it easier for IT to manage workstations both physically and remotely.

The Intel Xeon E3-1200 processor family also supports Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory, which is typically only found on high-end systems. ECC memory automatically detects and corrects up to 99.9998 percent of memory errors to improve data integrity and system uptime. Since the probability of data errors increases with an increase in the amount of memory, this feature is useful for content creators working with large and complex designs.
In addition to workstations and servers, Intel vPro Technology can be found in a variety of innovative applications beyond PCs, such as retail, digital signage, and banking devices.

Khronos Readies Final WebGL 1.0 Spec

The Khronos Group used the setting of the 2011 Game Developers Conference to launch its final WebGL 1.0 specification for enabling hardware-accelerated 3D graphics in HTML5 Web browsers without the need for plug-ins. WebGL defines a JavaScript binding to OpenGL ES 2.0, allowing rich 3D graphics within a browser on any platform supporting the industry-standard OpenGL or OpenGL ES graphics APIs.  

WebGL has the support of major silicon and browser vendors, including Apple, Google, Mozilla, and Opera, with multiple browsers already shipping with WebGL implementations, including the beta releases for Mozilla Firefox 4.0, all channels of Google Chrome 9.0, an Opera preview build, and Apple Mac OS Safari builds. Tim Johansson, lead graphics developer at Opera Software, says “Once WebGL becomes pervasive, we can look forward to a new era in creativity on the Web.”

WebGL leverages the pervasive availability of OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics on almost all browser-capable desktop, mobile, and embedded platforms, as well as the recent developments in Web technology, including the massive increases in JavaScript performance. The ability for Web developers to directly access OpenGL-class graphics directly from JavaScript and freely mix 3D with other HTML content will enable a new wave of innovation in Web gaming, educational and training applications, and graphically rich user interfaces to make the Web more enjoyable, productive, and intuitive (see “Universal Appeal,” pg. 18).

There is already a thriving middleware ecosystem around WebGL to provide a wide diversity of Web developers with the ability to easily create compelling 3D content for WebGL-enabled browsers. These tools include: C3DL, CopperLicht, EnergizeGL, GammaJS, GLGE, GTW, O3D, OSG.JS, SceneJS, SpiderGL, TDL, Three.js, and X3DOM.

In addition to the WebGL specification, Khronos has created a comprehensive WebGL test suite that can be downloaded free of charge at
www.khronos.org/implementers/webgl. Implementers of WebGL-capable browsers can run the test suite and upload their passing test results in order to designate their implementations as conforming to the WebGL specification.  

“WebGL enables an entire new class of applications on the Web. Being able to take advantage of first-class 3D hardware acceleration in a browser on both desktop and mobile [platforms] allows Web developers to create compelling and immersive experiences for their users,” says Vlad Vukicevic of Mozilla and chair of the WebGL working group.

In addition, Khronos also announced the formation of the WebCL working group to explore the possibility of defining a JavaScript binding to the Khronos OpenCL standard for heterogeneous parallel computing. WebCL creates the potential to harness GPU and multi-core CPU parallel processing from a Web browser, enabling significant acceleration of applications, such as image and video processing and advanced physics for WebGL games. Companies interested in participating in the definition of WebCL should contact Khronos at info@khronos.org.

The Khronos Group is an industry consortium creating open standards to enable the authoring and acceleration of parallel computing, graphics, and dynamic media on a wide variety of platforms and devices. Khronos standards include OpenGL, OpenGL ES, WebGL, OpenCL, OpenMAX, OpenVG, OpenSL ES, OpenKODE, and Collada.

Best in Show at GDC

This year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), held during early March in San Francisco, saw a healthy attendance: More than 19,000 gaming professionals reportedly attended the conference and exhibition. In fact, if those figures are correct, that is a record attendance for the show—and an excellent turnout during a time when interest in large trade shows is on the decline.

So, what awaited this crowd? There were a number of tutorials and summits, hundreds of lectures, and, of course, the annual Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards. Augmenting the conference and co-located events was the expo floor. This year, the exposition seemed to be divided into two nearly equal segments: those vendors offering video game development tools, and studios either showcasing their new titles and/or recruiting talent (schools also shared this area, pitching their programs to would-be students). Encompassing all these areas were the “world showcase” pavilions featuring vendors from a common state or country—from Germany, Canada, and Scotland, to Georgia and other regional and national locales.

While the number of vendors showing off their digital content creation software and hardware seemed to be lower this year than in the past, that does not mean the quality of those tools was lacking. In fact, some of the products—either making their initial debut or having recently been released—are quite impressive and have the potential to make a positive impact on game development.

With that said, Computer Graphics World has named its selections for the magazine’s Silver Edge Awards at GDC 2011. The newly unveiled Edge Awards are presented to companies whose product represents the best of show at the CG industry’s leading conferences and exhibitions, including GDC.

“There are a number of products—software, hardware, or possibly something that falls into a totally different category—that cause excitement and buzz at a trade show, or have the potential to greatly impact the industry. We wanted to formally recognize these cutting-edge offerings following the industry’s most important exhibitions,” says CGW chief editor Karen Moltenbrey.

Autodesk’s 2012 Entertainment Creation Suites. The various software releases that are part of the suites—the 2012 versions of 3ds Max, Maya, Mudbox, Softimage, and MotionBuilder—are impressive on their own, leveraging the latest advances in hardware. But when bundled together within the new suites, they are unmatched in terms of giving users advanced tools for advanced graphics creation in games.

Image Metric’s FaceWare 3.0. The company has been providing amazing facial animation for many triple-A game studios for years, and recently the company began offering this markerless analysis technology to animators, giving a studio’s artists creative control over the content. To this end, Version 3.0 contains some new key features, such as auto-pose, a shared pose database, and curve refinement.

Dassault’s 3DVIA tools. This  product continues to intrigue. The purpose of 3DVIA is to make 3D content creation easier, and it does just that. There are a number of tools under the 3DVIA umbrella, and they all serve in helping to democratize 3D development, including 3DVIA Studio for building high-quality 3D games on the Web.

Unity’s game engine. It is the game engine that could, a development platform for games and interactive 3D on the Web, iOS, Android, consoles, and more. Introduced in 2005, the Unity game engine’s popularity has soared. At the show, the company released Unity Android, enabling developers to easily port Unity-based games to the Android platform.

Autodesk’s Project Skyline. Unlike the other offerings here, Project Skyline—discussed openly at GDC—is best described as a concept technology than an actual product at this time. Nevertheless, it is quite intriguing and could have a radical effect on future game development. Skyline proposes to open up the current closed development pipeline to give content creators the ability to do live content authoring within a game engine. In short, it would put more control in the hands of the animators rather than code writers.

Adobe’s Molehill. While not yet a shipping product, Molehill (code name) is a new set of low-level, GPU-accelerated 3D APIs targeted at experienced 3D developers for delivering sophisticated 3D experiences. Using the new 3D APIs in Adobe Flash Player and AIR will make it possible to deliver sophisticated 3D experiences across almost every computer and device connected to the Internet.

Image Metrics Shows New FaceWare

Image Metrics is now offering FaceWare 3.0, its video performance and artist-driven facial animation software for the video game, film, visual effects, commercial, and television industries. The updated version incorporates several new features to ensure creative consistency within animation teams, and to increase productivity and ease of use.

FaceWare utilizes a markerless video analysis technology and an artist-driven performance transfer tool set to deliver believable and fast, ultra-high-fidelity facial animation. Because the software gives studios full creative flexibility, they are able to handle all creative decisions and iterations in-house. “Last year’s launch was a direct response to our customers’ desire to internally own creative control of their work. This year’s release is the answer to our customers’ stated definition of that creative control,” says Image Metrics CEO Robert Gehorsam.

Version 3 now contains an auto-pose suggestion feature that shows artists the most extreme and physically different video performance frames that should be added as relationship poses. A shared-pose database allows lead animators to establish a character’s “feel” prior to the animation process. New curve refinement tools, meanwhile, let animators adjust results that are output from the retargeting stage to suit the intended usage.

A full version of FaceWare 3.0, including assets, can be downloaded free at www.Image-Metrics.com. Image Metrics charges a processing fee for the animation, beginning at $25 per second. Subscription services are also available for customers with larger volumes of animation.

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