As always, choosing the standouts from a strong field was difficult. We also saw many exciting new products whose ship dates have shifted into the 2003 zone, making them ineligible for this year's roster (but we'll be keeping an eye on them for next year).
We applaud each of the winning companies, and the people who work for them, for keeping the spirit of innovation alive despite tough economic times. Congratulations! —The Editors
With Softimage|XSI 3.0, digital content creators can generate and work interactively with large data sets, including complex crowds. The software's new integrated crowd simulation tools enable users to build highly sophisticated, multi-object animations and behaviors for thousands of characters directly within XSI, allowing them to tweak the results at any point during the production process. The toolkit incorporates full-featured behavioral scripting, visual state-graph editing, and dynamic motion synthesis for automating the interactive behavior. XSI 3.0's pricing varies according to configuration. New seats can be purchased starting at $3500. Existing XSI owners can upgrade starting at $1395.
New in Alias|Wavefront's Maya Unlimited 4.5 is a fully integrated method for creating accurate fluid effects, traditionally one of the most difficult tasks in computer graphics. Maya Unlimited's Fluid Effects technology enables users to more realistically simulate and render atmospheric effects, viscous liquids, pyrotechnics, and space effects through computational fluid dynamics technology. Fluid Effects also includes an Ocean Shader for achieving open water effects such as waves and foam. Because the shader technology is integrated into the software, users can float objects on the ocean surface and have those objects react to the motion of the water. Maya Unlimited 4.5 is priced at $6999, while a version upgrade costs $999.
i3Dimensions' NGrain technology allows complex 3D data, including volumetric models, to be manipulated and modified on common computing platforms with no graphics hardware acceleration. i3Dimensions' proprietary technology makes it possible for companies to reuse and share 3D data with people who have no knowledge of 3D graphics. NGrain consists of Transformer, which converts existing 3D content for use in various applications; the Knowledge Module, which enables models to be enhanced with procedural animation, hyperlinking, etc.; and Mobilizer, which allows for moving, cross-sectioning, and other types of manipulation. Prices start at $4995 per seat.
This software from Eyematic makes use of the company's computer vision technology, allowing digital artists to "drive" the facial animation of their 3D characters in real time using their own expressions. By deriving facial animation data directly from video footage, FaceStation eliminates the need for special motion-capture hardware and for placing physical markers on a subject's face, simplifying the process of creating 3D facial animation for film, TV, games, and Web applications. The price is $1995.
The face2face Animation System—which incorporates advances in computer vision, visual speech recognition, facial animation, and MPEG-4 technologies developed at Bell Labs—automatically converts facial motion from consumer-quality digital video to animation without the need for facial markers or mocap equipment. Users can create a face model from a single still image using the product's MPEG-4 authoring tools. The facial animation parameters defined in the software can then drive the model or be used to animate characters created in other packages. Depending on the services provided, prices start at $200 per minute of facial animation parameter data.
The latest version of Discreet's popular animation extension for 3ds max offers an animation analyzer, quaternion function curves, and a non-linear animation mixer. The analyzer provides precise corrections for discontinuities of the animation of any limb on a character. The quaternion function curve eliminates the difficulties associated with traditional gimbal lock and gives feature animators greater control over animations—including the ability to refine mo-cap adjustments such as adding additional hip swivel or shoulder rotation. The non-linear animation mixer allows smooth blending of multiple motion files, which extends the use of motion libraries and allows for the seamless blending of motion capture with key-framed animation. The price is $995.
Imagineer Systems' software tool can separate and remove foreground elements from video or film clips without using traditional keying techniques or hand painting. After deleting an unwanted element from a clip, it can automatically re-paint the background that was previously obscured by searching other frames for the missing information. The software can also produce a traveling matte of the removed element so that it can be recomposited on a different background. Mokey is available as a standalone Windows application and as a plug-in to compositing and editing systems from Discreet and Avid. It can be rented for $150 per day for the NTSC or PAL version or for $300 per day for the SD, HD, and film version.
Serious Magic's video production system does for video what PowerPoint did for computer graphics: make it a communication tool that is affordable and usable by virtually anyone. The user types in a script and then cuts and inserts pre-created title pages, backgrounds, graphics, or effects next to the words in the script where they should appear in the video. Next, the user, speaking in front of a video camera attached to a PC, reads the script as it rolls up on the PC screen. The user can then "publish" the video to the Web, output it to tape, CD, or other programs. The cost is $150.
The Web-integration features of JVC's new GY-DV300 Streamcorder places this mini-DV video camera in a category by itself. Through its MPEG-4 adapter, the camera can stream video to a LAN or the Web so the output can be viewed on a remote computer screen. The camera can also record simultaneously to tape and to a memory card so the user can upload footage into a computer to edit or email to others. The camera with bundled adapter costs $4294.
3Dlabs' Wildcat VP chip incorporates more than 200 32-bit processors into a single processor—or Visual Processing Unit (VPU)—for more than 200Gflops and 1.2 TeraOps of power. The programmable VPU is the foundation for 3Dlabs' Wildcat VP family of graphics accelerators, designed to offer flexibility for mid-range workstation graphics applications. The VP technology supports both OpenGL and Direct3D, and its power and programmability can greatly speed up rendering and previews for professional digital content projects. Prices for Wildcat VP cards vary. The high-end VP970 is $1199 and the mid-range VP760 is $449.
NewTek's second-generation Video Toaster for Windows 2000 is a production and post-production environment that can process uncompressed video in real time. The system handles a gamut of tasks, including non-linear editing, live keying, Internet streaming, character generation, compositing, 2D video painting and compositing, and 3D modeling and animation. Equipment shown on the computer screen, such as tape decks and monitors, works as it would in a real studio. The basic package costs $2995. A dual-standard NTSC/PAL version is available for $3495.
Version 3.0 of messiah:animate marks a departure from plug-in status to standalone tool for pmG Worldwide's character animation toolset. Not only can the software now run on its own, but it is pipeline-capable with Alias|Wavefront's Maya, NewTek's LightWave (it was formerly a LightWave plug-in only), and Discreet's 3ds max. Messiah:animate 3.0 therefore gives animators the ability to transfer projects between multiple applications, and to more easily work on joint projects between multiple applications. The new version also features fast bone deformation, and an OpenGL custom control environment. The cost is $1045 per license. ..
One of the biggest drawbacks of mocap systems is that they require manual intervention when data loss occurs—such as while tracking complex character interactions in real time. Vicon Motion Systems' Vicon iQ overcomes that obstacle by automatically resolving ambiguities in captured data. Vicon iQ generates an individual kinematic model of each performer and maintains the realistic biomechanical motion of the complete skeleton, even when the reflective markers used to capture the motions are occluded. Vicon iQ retains the acquired data throughout the entire capture process, enabling users to resolve any data inconsistencies that may arise later on in processing. Prices start at $4900.
Vicon Motion Systems: