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Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 12 (December 2000)

Computer Graphics World's 2000 Innovation Awards

It's never easy for the editors of Computer Graphics World to winnow a relative few products from the field of outstanding new CG hardware and software that arrives each year. This, our seventh consecutive innovation awards selection, was no exception. However, we did manage to choose 21 truly innovative products that we believe extend the frontiers of visual computing.

Last year we noted two new categories of product: Web- based graphics programs and CAD/CAM/CAE viewing and collaboration tools. This year, several of these technologies have matured to the point where they offer graphics professionals a real edge in their endeavors. You'll find several examples of these products among our winners, and we expect these areas to continue evolving over the next year. Another technology to watch is the human-computer interface. We gave a special prize last year to FreeForm, a new haptic interface from SensAble Technologies, and this year we awarded prizes to some notable new immersive displays.

We extend congratulations to each of this year's winners, and we hope that the year to come reveals innovations as impressive as these. -THE EDITORS

Using red, green, and blue lasers, Foundation scanning technology captures accurate, highly detailed geometry and color from real-world objects to produce 3D digital models. Since color is implicit in the resulting model, texture maps are not necessary. When Foundation is used to capture a pair of running shoes, for example, it is possible to zoom into the 3D geometry and see individual threads in the cloth portions of the shoes. A captured painting, when viewed from an angle, shows the texture and depth of the paint. Foundation is available on a lease basis; pricing varies. (Arius3D; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; www.arius3d.com)

Suppose you needed to render a CG party scene-a cigar smoker, mixed drinks on a glass table, books on a shelf, a a dog on a leather sofa near a window. To get all these effects-smoke, hair, reflections and more-a studio might use several rendering programs such as surface renderers, volume renderers, raytracers, and so forth, which can be difficult to integrate, especially when the scene has motion blur. Jig, an open, extensible program with multiple rendering algorithms that can be combined in one scene to create multiple effects, solves the problem. Jig costs $1050 per seat or $78,750 per site license for a year. (Steamboat Software; Los Angeles; www.steamboat-software.com)

An add-on to Right Hemisphere's DeepPaint3D, Texture Weapons allows painters to generate accurate and distortion-free textures on models of varying topological complexity. The MercatorUV technology automatically creates the editable UV maps for complex 3D models. Texture painters using the program's Projection Paint technology can paint on NURBS or polygonal models from any angle without having the brush or texture change size, despite UV coordinate variations. The cost is $1290 with DeepPaint3D or $495 as an add-on. (Right Hemisphere; Auckland, New Zealand; www.righthemisphere.com)
photo © 2000, Bill Fleming, Komodo Studio

Proprietary match-moving algorithms enable 2d3's Boujou to automatically and accurately calibrate camera tracking information from video and film footage so that CG elements can be incorporated into the scene. Boujou is the first match-moving package to completely automate the process-other programs require at least some manual input, which is less accurate and more time-consuming. Boujou extracts camera position data so quickly that it could cut days from the process, and should thus make match-moving technology available to a far wider variety of users and applications. (2d3; Oxford, UK; www.2d3.com)

Leading the charge to move mechanical design engineering from the desktop to the Web, Alibre introduced Alibre Design, the first fully developed CAD ASP software created expressly for collaborative, parametric solid modeling over the Internet. The solid modeler, based on Spatial Technology's ACIS kernel, uses a Web browser as its interface and STEP (the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data) as its internal file format. The system includes configurable security, version control, and real-time collaboration features. The program's three-tier architecture reduces bottlenecks by distributing work to local, intranet, and remote servers. A subscription to the service costs $100 per month or $1000 per year. (Alibre; Richardson, TX; www.alibre.com)

A hybrid of computer vision and scanning technologies distinguishes Immersion Corp.'s LightScribe 3D from conventional 3D digitizing tools by giving the user the freedom not only to quickly capture the geometry and texture of an object but also to zero in on specific areas of high detail to achieve sub-millimeter accuracy. The modeling process can take less than an hour, and the resulting high-resolution model can be viewed from any angle. The LightScribe 3D system combines a low-cost video camera, a hand-held laser stylus, and image-processing software to create a digital version of a physical object that rotates on a computer-controlled turntable. The object's texture is re-created as well and can be "peeled off" the model and edited in standard image-processing software. LightScribe 3D is priced at $7995. (Immersion Corp.; San Jose, CA; www.immersion.com)

Z Corp. has added an important new capability-color-to rapid prototyping technology. The Z402C 3D color printer uses the company's core powder-binder technology to construct a model, then mixes an unlimited number of colors into the outer layers of powder and applies them to the object in an approximate 1mm thickness. The ability to use multiple colors for rapid prototype models will help manufacturers gain a more accurate view of final products, and possibly help scientists view phenomena in interesting new ways. The Z402C sells for $67,500. Current owners of the Z402 may buy a color upgrade for $14,500. (Z Corp.; Burlington, MA; www.zcorp.com)

The first module of Orchestrate3D, a nonlinear production system from Improv Technologies, is the motion compositing tool Scene Conductor. The grand plan for Orchestrate3D is to provide a non-application-specific unified environment within which artists, animators, directors, and producers can create and manage animation projects. Orchestrate3D is being developed in modules, with Scene Conductor enabling the layering and blending of keyframes and expression-based or motion-capture animation sequences. Scene Conductor and subsequent modules will provide long-needed control over disparate production tasks. (Improv Technologies; New York City; www.improv-tech.com)

Revit is the first constraint-based parametric modeler for architects. Now building designers can make use of the same two-way associativity that mechanical designers have enjoyed for years. Change the pitch of a roof, and the geometry of the attached walls and any other associated components automatically modifies (within design constraints) to accommodate it. Or change the wall geometry, and the roof pitch revises accordingly. Revit is sold on a subscription basis. Subscribers pay a monthly fee to download the modeler and receive support and subsequent upgrades. (Revit Technology Corp.; Waltham, MA; www.revit.com)

Tackling the CAD system interoperability problem head-on, Translation Technologies Inc. (TTI) developed Acc-u-Trans, a Web-based system that translates Pro/Engineer 3D CAD models to the Catia CAD software format. The user uploads a model to the TTI site and receives an estimate for the cost of the direct, native-to-native format translation. Most translations cost approximately $140 per part, though the pricing varies according to model size and complexity. If the user accepts the estimate, the file is translated and returned, usually within 24 hours. The translated files are accurate and modifiable by the target CAD application. The company is currently developing translators for other CAD systems. (TTI; Spokane, WA; www.translation tech.com)

By using volumetric-based rendering technology, Arete Image Software is making it easier for users to create realistic fire, smoke, and water effects with its Digital PyroTools and P_Liquid products, respectively.

Arete's fire shaders-Digital PyroTools for Softimage and Pyro for Maya-provide physics-based, volumetric fire and smoke simulation and rendering for accurately capturing fire dynamics. The software uses a fluid-dynamics engine to generate and evolve fire and smoke for producing flickering flames and billowing smoke, both of which are full volumetric representations that use density fields and implicit surfaces. The renderer uses a volumetric technique that takes into account the light that is emitted from the temperature field of the flames and the scattering of light by the smoke. Digital PyroTools for Softimage costs $995; Pyro for Maya is priced at $595.

P_Liquid for Maya employs a novel approach to generate photorealistic, full-motion liquid surfaces directly from Maya particles. The software plug-in converts Maya particles into one or more implicit surfaces and then seamlessly integrates the implicit surface rendering with the Maya renderer. Because it is integrated with the Maya environment, animators can add reflections and refractions of Maya-built objects to the liquid. P_Liquid for Maya is priced at $495. (Arete Image Software; Sherman Oaks, CA; www.areteis.com)

Version 3 of Discreet's Character Studio software, an extension to 3D Studio Max, provides an advanced crowd and behavior-based animation system for designating how and where a group of humans, animals, or other entities should move over time. When the Crowd feature is used in combination with the Biped (footstep animation) tool, animators can move human characters based on a combination of animations. For instance, they can populate a battlefield with characters that advance, retreat, avoid obstacles, and wield their weapons in intelligent but individualistic ways. Character Studio 3 also incorporates a fast, intuitive way to specify up to six animatable inverse kinematic pivot points on a character's hands and feet for smooth, natural movement. A walking sequence can be fluidly simulated to create natural movement with as few as three keystrokes. Character Studio 3 is priced at $1495. (Discreet; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; www.discreet.com)
Image courtesy of Fox Sports

ART's raytracing-on-a-chip technology has been realized and refined in two of the company's products, the RD5000, introduced earlier this year, and the latest offering, the RD3000. Both are dedicated rendering machines containing the company's proprietary raytracing chips. The RD5000 is optimized for animation and the RD3000 for still photography. All the RenderDrive does is render, but it does it well, providing quality comparable to dedicated raytracing software packages, but much more quickly. The RenderDrive can, in effect, replace a renderfarm, condensing the work of a dozen or so machines into one modestly sized box. The price of the RD3000 is $14,995. The RD5000 costs $24,995. (Advanced Rendering Technology; Mountain View, CA; www.art-render.com)

Talk about immersion-with SPIN, the spherical projection interface, a user literally enters a virtual world by stepping inside a 3-meter diameter translucent ball supported by nine 20cm diameter balls that act as bearings. When a user walks inside the ball, the center of gravity shifts and SPIN rolls underfoot. The walking surface, made of a special fiberglass epoxy, is also the projection surface (users wear non-marking, skid-proof shoes). The user's position is tracked as he or she walks in any direction. Five projectors-four around the outside and one above-beam the ever-changing graphics of the virtual world onto the surface. (Time's Up; Linz, Austria; www.timesup.org/spin)

Promising to bring stereo viewing of 3D datasets to a wider audience, Fakespace introduced the conCAVE, an office-size visualization display that can be installed in a 10- by 12-foot room and viewed by multiple users at the same time without the use of special glasses or head-tracking devices. Proprietary software warps images to fit the curved screen, creating the illusion of immersion and depth. A conCAVE system, including a 6-foot wide screen, a 1280- by 1024-pixel projector, and software is priced at $45,000. (Fakespace; Kitchener, Ontario, Canada; www.fakespacesystems.com)

Elumens' VisionStation is a 9-foot diameter hemispherical display that envelops single users in an immersive desktop environment. A novel imaging technique combines 3D algorithms and a proprietary optical lens design to project computer-generated images onto the viewing screen without distortion. The system, including the 180-degree screen, a 1024- by 768-pixel resolution projector, and plug-ins that transform images created in Discreet's 3D Studio Max and 3D Studio Viz, is priced at $19,995. (Elumens; Cary, NC; www.elumens.com)

Vicon Motion Systems, a division of Oxford Metrics, is changing the way we view motion with the Vicon 8 M Series Camera (Mcam), the first million-pixel, high-speed video camera built specifically for optical motion-capture applications. The Mcam operates at a 1000- by 1000-pixel resolution at 120 frames per second-three times the resolution of most competitive products-enabling customers to use smaller markers (9mm versus 25mm) on the actors during the motion-capture session. The higher resolution camera also produces data that is virtually noise-free, eliminating the need to filter the captured data before usage. The Mcam is compatible with the Vicon 8Rt software package, introduced last year, for streaming real-time motion data directly into various 3D software packages. Pricing for the Mcam varies according to setup. A complete eight-camera turnkey system costs $200,000. (Vicon Motion Systems; Tustin, CA; www.vicon.com)
Image courtesy of Motion-capture stage at Blur, Venice, CA

For virtual-reality developers eager to move beyond the boundaries of existing motion-tracking technologies, the commercialization of a new wide-area optical tracking and 3D digitizing system called the HiBall-3000 by 3rdTech promises to provide the room they need to grow their applications. The HiBall-3000 system consists of an optical sensor with six lenses and photodiodes arranged to receive LED signals emitted by ceiling-embedded "beacon arrays." The HiBall setup is unique in that the signal receivers are attached to the person or object being tracked (either as part of a head-mounted display or a hand-held device). In conventional tracking systems, sensors are connected to the user, and the signals they emit (whether from a magnetic, optical, acoustic, or mechanical source) are picked up by a remotely located receiver. A benefit of the HiBall approach is that the user cannot move "out of range" as long as he or she is within the area covered by the ceiling beacons, which is scalable to more than 1600 square feet. Among the HiBall's other advantages are its high-precision tracking (location resolution of less than 0.2mm) and an update rate as high as 2000hz. Additionally, the "bug-eyed" sensor mechanism weighs only six ounces and thus mounts easily on a helmet or stylus. The beacons install in standard drop ceilings. Pricing for a complete HiBall system starts at $28,000. (3rdTech; Chapel Hill, NC ; www.3rdTech.com)

Helping engineering firms make the transition from 2D to 3D design, Imagecom is the first Internet application service provider to offer a program for converting 2D CAD drawings to feature-based parametric models. The new service, called 2Dto3DCAD.com, is based on Imagecom's e-FlexiDesign conversion software and works inside the company's ASPire3D.com portal. Users upload any 2D drawing saved in DXF or DWG format and receive 3D models in native Autodesk Mechanical Desktop 4.0/5.0 or Inventor 2.0/3.0 formats. The average price per conversion is $50. (Imagecom; Arlington, TX; www.imagecom corp.com)

Proprietary global illumination algorithms enable the AGI32 lighting design environment from Lighting Analysts to perform radiosity calculations for complex architectural environments "on the fly" in seconds to minutes rather than hours or days. The tool incorporates the company's Helios32 radiosity renderer to generate both full-color architectural visualizations and physically correct photometric predictions for complex virtual environments made up of unlimited luminaires, calculation points, and reflective and transmissive surfaces. The Windows-based program also includes a library of lighting manufacturers' product data. AGI32 is available for $895. (Lighting Analysts; Littleton, CO; www.lightinganalysts.com)

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