Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 8 (August 2001)

Bionatics Grows Virtual Plants

natFX, launching at this year's Siggraph, is a plug-in designed for modeling and animating 3D plants. Real-time plant-tuning functionality allows users to specify the age, season, and scale of each plant. Animation is possible either as a realistic effect (with botanical constraints) or as a cartoon effect (bypassing the constraints), using natFX's built-in plant skeletons. All natFX trees and plants are fully textured, based on scans of actual leaves, stems, and bark.

natFX is currently available as a plug-in for Alias|Wavefront's Maya. A plug-in for Discreet's 3ds max is planned for December 2001. Pierre Kueny, application engineer at Alias|Wavefront, worked with Bionatics to develop the natFX plug-in for Maya "The realism of the trees is extremely good," says Kueny, "with animation that ap pears natural and an image database of leaf and trunk scans that are exceptional. natFX is well integrated into Maya, so users can modify plant shape and color even after they have been imported, and is a good complement to the existing Maya tools for hyper-realistic trees and plants." Chris Ford, senior project manager for Maya at Alias|Wavefront, agrees: "NatFX for Maya is certainly one of the most sophisticated plant modeling and animation solutions I have seen."

Two other new Bionatics applications are Realnat, a plant modeler optimized for real-time visual simulation, and Easynat, a plant modeler created for architectural applications. Bionatics has more than 350 plants from five continents in its database. The plants can be purchased by region or theme, and the company is developing an online seed store so that users can buy virtual plants for specific needs.

The Maya plug-in version of natFX costs $2500, and additional plants at the online store are available for $100 to $300 apiece, depending on the type of plant. The Realnat product, launched early this summer, costs $7500. Easynat, which will be a plug-in for Discreet's 3d studioviz, is scheduled for October 2002 availability at a cost of $1000. (Bionatics; -Katherine Tyrka