Spotlight - 12/02
Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 12 (Dec 2002)

Spotlight - 12/02

In order to maintain this edge, manufacturer 3Dlabs produces continual updates. The latest of these is the Wildcat 4, based on the new AGP 8x interface that can transfer 2gb of graphics information per second between graphics board and system. Wildcat 4 also offers OpenGL 1.3 and 3D volumetric support, as well as 3Dlabs' SuperScene antialiasing, which eliminates jaggies and flickering edges at resolutions up to 1920 by 1080. The Wildcat 4 also has dual analog and digital monitor support.

Model differentiation follows a pattern similar to that of previous Wildcat generations. The Wildcat 4 7110 comes with 256mb of memory, whereas the higher end Wildcat 4 7210 has 384mb of memory. The 7210 also offers Genlock support, which synchronizes the vertical refresh rate of the system display to an external signal, and Multiview support, which provides frame locking and rate locking of multiple workstations.

Both Wildcats run on Windows 2000/XP or Linux operating systems. They require a system with an AGP Pro 50 slot that has an adjacent, open PCI slot for cooling. The Wildcat 4 cards will be available on an OEM basis, with prices to be announced. —Jenny Donelan

Modeling, Animation, and Compositing from RadTime
3dFilm 2002 is a sub-$1000 integrated compositing and animation package from RadTime that allows users to create and import 3D models and composite them with 2D video elements. 3dFilm is optimized for OpenGL and Pentium 4 performance so that users can make changes and run the results without using wireframes or re-rendering. The 2002 version of 3dFilm allows texture mapping of any 3D object with video or still images. Textures can be used as color maps, height fields for bump maps, or gloss maps.

Compositing and animation tools include roto-masking, a hierarchical animation system, and editable animation tools. Add-on modules include the HyperMatte KeyingPak, a chroma keyer, and 3D ModelMaker, with which users can create and edit B-spline meshes and create morphing animation. Models are created and animated on the same time line and stored in the same project file as the user's media layers and compositions.

RadTime sells 3dFilm 2002 for $795. The 3D ModelMaker costs $195, and the KeyingPak, $195. All three packages are available as 3dFilm 2002 ProSuite for $995. —JD


Volumetric Clouds for WCS 6
World Construction Set (WCS) is a well-established photorealistic terrain visualization and rendering package that is used by both artists and scientists. WCS images and animations can be seen in documentary films, television broadcasts, interactive museum presentations, video games, simulation rides, classrooms, and countless other applications. While users can create terrain from scratch with the program, its great variety of ready-to-use, editable imagery has helped make this nearly 10-year-old product so ubiquitous.

World Construction Set 6, the latest version of the software, allows users to create volumetric clouds that can change over time and cast and receive shadows. Users also have the option of having a camera fly through the clouds. Other new features include real-time viewable OpenGL foliage, a new color editor, enhanced image format support, and hundreds of new foliage objects, textures, and pre-built components such as skies, ecosystems, and water features, all of which can be dragged and dropped into scenes.

WCS 6 is available in Windows, PowerMac, and DEC Alpha versions for $995. —JD

3D Nature

Cinema 4D Adds Advanced Modules
Maxon Computer's modeling and animation program Cinema 4D has been upgraded with new modeling tools, workflow enhancements, advanced

controls, and an improved timeline. Release 8 of the software includes HyperNURBS subdivision surfaces and spline deformer modeling among its new tools. Workflow upgrades include OpenGL optimizations such as faster redraw and genlocking for real-time texture maps. Light inclusion and exclusion and an advanced node editor are among the new controls, and drag-and-drop functionality, an F-Curve manager, auto-keyframing, and real-time sound have been added to the timeline.

Cinema 4D Release 8 has also been reconfigured for accessibility to a wider range of users. The basic package costs $595, and additional features are now packaged as modules. The XL Bundle, at $1695, includes the advanced rendering and particle animation modules, and the Studio Bundle, at $2495, also includes Maxon's BodyPaint 3D and a dynamics module. Cinema 4D Release 8 runs on Windows and Macintosh systems. In the case of the latter, OS X and OS 9 versions have now been unified. —JD

Maxon Computer

Formac's LCD for Image Editing
Formac Electronic's gallery 2010 flat-panel display is based on new LCD technology from Fujitsu that is designed to provide better viewing angle, brightness, contrast ratio, and pixel response time than that of most other monitors in the 2010's category. Fujitsu's Multi Domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) Premium active matrix technology enables a 170-degree viewing angle with no color distortion, a contrast ratio of 600:1 for sharper imagery, and a 10 to 25 ms pixel response for smooth video playback.

The gallery 2010 conforms to Pantone color standards, and is in fact designed for professionals working in color-critical applications such as desktop publishing, video editing, and digital imaging. The new technology, according to the company, does away with the color distortion and ghosting that have plagued LCDs and made them sub-optimal for users in the above professions.

The Formac gallery 2010 has a 20.1-inch diagonal display area and a resolution of 1600 by 1200, which the company says compares to the virtual workspace of a 23-inch CRT monitor. It is available with an ADC or DVI interface, and so is Macintosh and PC compatible. The price of the monitor is $1699. —JD

Formac Electronic

Whale of a Tale
Big Idea Productions—which in the past nine years has established itself as a major player in the video market with its VeggieTales movies for children—has recently planted itself in the 3D feature-film arena with its first big-screen release, titled Jonah—A VeggieTales Movie. Based on the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, the film features the studio's familiar characters—Larry the Cucumber, Bob the Tomato, Archibald the Asparagus, and the rest of the garden-patch group—as they set out on a modern-day high-seas adventure.

As Big Idea discovered, taking this giant leap from video to feature film required more than garden-variety animation techniques. "We had to re-evaluate our processes and figure out what we had to do to make our project work on a bigger screen," says Marc Vulcano, director of animation. "A feature film with its larger, wider format is not as forgiving as direct-to-home videos. We realized we had to raise the bar, especially when it came to our textures and the number of objects and characters that appear in a scene." On average, each scene required three to four times the imagery used in the videos.

The entire film project—like the videos—was completed in Alias|Wavefront's Maya. The group used Adobe Systems' Photoshop for painting the image textures and mattes, while compositing was done with Alias|Wavefront's Composer. In the early stages, Big Idea used SGI Unix-based hardware for compositing, but later transitioned to Linux for the remaining compositing and rendering. To handle the extra compositing and rendering workload associated with the film's high-definition format, the studio more than doubled its number of dual-processor PCs.

The transition also forced the team to re-evaluate its character performances. "We had to be more consistent and accurate with our facial expressions and eye directions," Vulcano says. Toward this end, the artists spent even more time studying the basic principles of acting—in particular, facial expressions and emotions—and applying them to their characters. They also used in-house scripted tools that simulate the muscles in the human face, thus giving them a greater level of flexibility in the final animations.

"The characters are simple in form, making them difficult to emote at the level we wanted," explains Vulcano.

What the VeggieTales characters lack in physical attributes, they make up for with stage presence. "On first glance, you might think that our characters are just simple shapes," Vulcano says. "But if you look closely at their eyes and faces, you'll see there's a lot going on in terms of animation." —Karen Moltenbrey

Key Tool: Maya, Alias|Wavefront

Making Faces
Have you ever dreamed of one day starring in a national commercial? If so, this "budding" opportunity's for you. For a limited time, Anheuser-Busch is enabling consumers to create 3D virtual characters based on their own likenesses for use in online Budweiser ads. The company first hosted the unique marketing campaign on its Bud Light site, and is extending the program to its Budweiser site (

To create a personalized Bud ad, a person first uploads a digital photograph to the Budweiser Web site, or chooses one of a dozen pre-built models. Pulse Entertainment's Veepers program then maps the 2D image onto a 3D model template. Next, the person types in a personalized text message that will be recited by the virtual spokesperson. Veepers' text-to-speech engine then converts the script into speech that the digital personality delivers in one of several available accents, and synchronizes the model's eyes and mouth with the text. Once the 5-minute process is completed, the CG character is posted at the Bud URL for viewing.
The Pulse Veepers program maps a 2D face image onto a 3D model.

According to Pulse president Mark Yahiro, "This is a unique opportunity for adult consumers to build their own virtual characters on the Web by using technologies previously accessible only to professional 3D modelers." —KM

KEY TOOL: Veepers, Pulse Entertainment

Fluid Dynamics
To improve digital effects shots of fluids in motion, researchers at Stanford have developed a new technique that model how the surface of a liquid interacts with air. The new "particle level set method" combines an implicit representation of the surface with marker particles. The smooth behavior of the air-liquid interface results from the movement of particles on both sides of the surface using velocities extrapolated over the surface of the liquid and into the region occupied by the air. The developers say that the new process allows for control over the behavior of liquid surfaces and can obtain the comoplex refracting liquid surfaces commonly seen in many visually pleasing real-world flows. The image at left shows the technique as it is applied to computer-generated water being poured into a glass. —Phil LoPiccolo

Virtual Exhibits
A novel augmented-reality display that may be ideal for interactive museum exhibits is being developed by a consortium led by the Fraunhofer Centers for Research in Computer Graphics and initiated by Oliver Bimber (now at Bauhaus University). The Virtual Showcase allows the stereoscopic display of computer-generated 3D graphics and animations together with real artifacts inside the same space to observers wearing special glasses. The assembly of half-silvered mirrors and graphics display uses off-the-shelf video projectors to illuminate physical objects inside the showcase on a per pixel basis. This gives application developers control over the visibility of the real objects as seen through overlaid graphics. To resolve conflicting occlusion cues, the video projectors generate shadows on the physical objects' surfaces where the corresponding graphics content is overlaid. The color, blending, and geometry of the projected light can be controlled to provide a realistic occlusion of real objects by virtual ones. The images above show an exhibit in which computer-generated jaw muscles and skin are projected onto the real skull of a Deinonychus, a predatory dinosaur. —PL

3D Web Browser Penetration Grows
At the end of 2002, penetration for 3D Web browsers will reach over 44 percent of all Web-enabled PCs. This figure is up from a penetration level of 32 percent in 2001.

Macromedia's Shockwave continues to lead the market, accounting for half of all 3D Web browsers. As the second largest player, Viewpoint is seeing its figures grow this year thanks in part to its partnership with AOL, which is growing.

However, the penetration of 3D Web browsers makes up only a portion of the overall success for 3D on the Web. Many consumers are unaware that they have access to 3D-enabled browsers. And even with an enabled browser, the amount of 3D Web content available is still limited due to vendors' ongoing technical difficulties in creating compelling 3D content for the Internet platform. Widespread adoption of 3D Web content is not projected to make a significant impact on the market until 2007, when penetration levels should reach over 80 percent.

In Brief
Panoram Technologies (Sun Valley, CA), a maker of displays for visualization environments, and 3D Perception (Asker, Norway), a projector manufacturer, have settled a patent infringement suit over an edge-blending technology that allows multiple video projections to be integrated into high-resolution, seamless images....5D (London, UK), a developer of image-processing products for the film and video visual effects industry, ceased operations this fall. 5D had manufactured products such as 5D Colossus, a software-based digital film grading and finishing product, and 5D Cyborg, a multiresolution compositig and effects system. 5D products were recently used in the making of films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Stuart Little 2. —JD