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Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 2 (Feb 2003)

Products


Director MX is the latest version of Macromedia's flagship multimedia authoring environment. With Director, users can create rich, interactive content for platforms such as CD/DVD-ROMs, kiosks, and the Web. New features include the ability to import Macromedia Flash MX files and tighter integration in general with Macromedia Flash MX. Director also uses Macromedia server technologies to enable the creation of multiuser games, distance-learning applications, and real-time collaboration.

Other additions are advanced debugging capabilities with features such as streamlined debugging layouts, color coding of recently changed variables, and a new Object Inspector that lets users examine and modify all the properties of an object without scripting, QuickTime 6 support, and support for Mac OS X, including the ability to author executables that can be launched on OS X systems.

Another important new feature involves creating content that is compliant with Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act, which mandates standards of user accessibility for digital content. Director MX allows users to add text-to-speech, captioning, and tab navigation features to Internet-based Shockwave content or standalone applications without the need for a screen reader. Director MX costs $1199. —Jenny Donelan

Macromedia; www.macromedia.com







products rendering


RenderMan 11 is the latest version of Pixar Animation Studios' visual effects software, which currently enjoys widespread use in film and video production. The new RenderMan features raytracing on a per-surface basis, global illumination, and deep shadows, as well as various speed and pipeline optimizations.

The addition of per-surface raytracing allows artists to better control effects such as reflections, refractions, color bleeding, and shadow penumbras, and to produce them more accurately and efficiently. For example, in a scene in which raytracing is required for a character's eyeglasses, the artist can simply raytrace the lenses rather than raytrace the scene on a global level. Pixar's Deep Shadow technology is a shadowmap format that produces realistic shadows that are especially suited to animation projects. The technology also provides users with methods for pre-filtering shadows and collecting transparency and volumetric information, which enhances the accuracy of shadows and provides opportunities for new effects.

The speed optimizations in RenderMan 11 are designed to improve performance overall, but especially for large scenes and scenes with high depth complexity. And the new simplified production pipeline enables the direct rendering of shadows and reflections, which will reduce the number of rendering passes for some shots.

Pricing for RenderMan 11 varies according to product configuration. The RenderMan Toolkit 11 costs $5000. —JD

Pixar Animation Studios; www.pixar.com







products modeling


With Version 3.5 of ImageModeler, RealViz makes its photographic image-based 3D modeling software available for Mac OS X as well as Windows systems. Other additions to ImageModeler include a new workflow-driven interface and a refined image modeling toolset.

ImageModeler was designed to simplify the creation of certain types of 3D models. It does so by building a digital model from two or more 2D still photographs of the same scene or image. The software makes tri-dimensional measurements of the objects or scenes, builds meshes to represent those measurements, then extracts texture maps from the photographs and applies them to the meshes. The ensuing models can be edited, output to other 3D file formats, and used in a variety of applications, including architecture and archeology, video games, and movie sets. Although ImageModeler is able to handle organic shapes such as humans, it is best at creating building interiors and exteriors, street scenes, and other scenes with straight angles.

ImageModeler runs on Windows NT as well as Mac OS X systems. A version for Windows XP/2000 should be available early in the year. The price is $750. —JD

RealViz: www.realviz.com







products web

Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration provides navigation tools for searching, viewing, and translating 2D graphics and 3D models, including those with animation. Now Right Hemisphere has introduced Viewpoint Media Integrator (VMI), which works in conjunction with Deep Exploration to enable the creation of interactive rich media from 3D models. Animation, textures, Macromedia Flash, and other graphics can be combined to create a variety of interactive Internet and Intranet applications such as technical documentation, training, presentations, visualizations, and various e-commerce applications. An example of VMI technology might be a digital engine that users can take apart and reassemble.

VMI content is published using Viewpoint Experience Technology from Viewpoint Corp. (www.viewpoint.com) and accessed by users with the Viewpoint Media Player. Those publishing VMI material must first complete licensing arrangements with Viewpoint. (Viewpoint broadcast licenses are free for non-commercial use.) The Viewpoint Media Integrator costs $595, or $795 including Deep Exploration. —JD

Right Hemisphere; www.righthemisphere.com







products animation

Kaydara, a maker of character animation and motion capture tools, has announced Kaydara HumanIK, a plug-in designed to provide advanced character animation tools for Discreet's 3ds max modeling and animation software. HumanIK works within 3ds max, supporting all native bone and object structures, and providing additional features such as automatic character rigging and a scripting tool for the quick creation of human bone structures.

Automatic character rigging was developed to save animators time they would have spent performing manual rigging. HumanIK was designed to simplify the process of motion retargeting between HumanIK-based characters by allowing animators to use motion data from diverse sources within a unified animation environment, regardless of the size or shape of the character.

HumanIK also works in conjunction with Discreet's Character Studio to complement that program's Physique and Crowd components. It is also compatible with Kaydara's MotionBuilder. The program supports major motion capture file formats such as BVH, HTR, ASF, and FBX. The price is $1295. —JD

Kaydara; www.kaydara.com







user focus film

Deadly chase scenes and supercharged vehicles are two main attractions in every James Bond film. In Die Another Day, the recent release in the super-spy series, the movie lived up to its usual standards in these areas, as fans were treated to the latest technological advancements on wheels from the genius gadget-maker Q, including an ice dragster that Bond uses during a daring escape ("Ice-scape," January 2003, pg. 26).

Creating the unusual vehicle also required some technological wizardry from scanning company Eyetronics, which used its ShapeWare system to digitally capture the geometry of a dragster and helicopter used in the film and turn them into 3D models. The CG versions were then incorporated into scenes in which using the actual vehicles would have been impossible because of safety issues.

To create the digital versions of these Bond vehicles, Eyetronics technicians visited Pinewood Studios in London, home of the James Bond movies, where they used the company's ShapeCam hand-held scanner to digitize scale models of the vehicles from all angles. They later processed and assembled the scan data in 3D using Eyetronics' proprietary ShapeSnatcher software. The completed models were then sent to Cinesite and Double Negative, two London-based postproduction houses, where they were rendered in Alias|.Wavefront's Maya and composited into the appropriate scenes.

Typically, such modeling and texturing is done by postproduction houses, notes Sharon Lark, visual effects producer for the film. To save time and money, though, the studios were provided with the scanned data. "By using the data derived from the scan, we were able to build and texture the final computer graphic element [the helicopter] with good results in a relatively short time frame," says Peter Bebb, a 3D artist at Double Negative. Lark adds that she is pleased with the final results, noting that it's impossible to tell that the vehicles in these particular scenes are virtual models. —Karen Moltenbrey

KEY TOOL: ShareWare, Eyetronics;
www.eyetronics.com


In Die Another Day, CG vehicles generated from 3D scan data were inserted into scenes.




user focus gaming

After setting the online gaming world ablaze more than a year ago with its massively multiplayer role-playing game Dark Age of Camelot ("Gaming for the Masses," March 2002, pg. 12), Mythic Entertainment is again poised to ignite players' interest by releasing Shrouded Isles, an expansion pack to its popular Internet-based game. Shrouded Isles extends the story and enhances the action of Dark Age of Camelot with new character classes, races, and continents, displayed with a revised NetImmerse graphics engine from NDL for maximizing the game's visual effects.

Players will still choose a character from one of three "realms"—Arthurian legends, Norse Viking mythology, or Irish Celtic lore—whose enhanced textures bring a new level of realism to the players, monsters, and worlds. "We wanted the worlds to come alive for the players," says producer Matt Firor. "We wanted to make sure each was graphically diverse from the others with its own color scheme, player models, terrain, and architecture." Other graphical improvements include nearly 100 different monster models and 400 unique weapons, armor, and shields—all modeled in Discreet's 3ds max and textured with Adobe Systems' Photoshop.

The game takes advantage of Nvidia's graphics processors, such as the new GeForce FX, for simulating realistic water with wake-like movement and reflections. The water effect uses a number of Microsoft DirectX vertex and pixel shaders for generating a "normal" map (similar to a bump map), which is then used to disrupt the reflection map so the water reflection "moves" naturally.

The expansion pack also offers novel quests, thousands of fresh monster encounters, and an innovative artificial intelligence system that enables monsters to behave and attack in unpredictable ways. —KM

KEY TOOL: NetImmerse engine, NDL;
www.ndl.com


The massively multiplayer game Shrouded Isles incorporates sophisticated effects, including water ripples.




technology mocap

Stanford University researchers have devised a method to capture the highly expressive motions of 2D cartoon characters and transfer them to digital-video and computer-generated figures. While much progress has been made in using motion-capture data to make photoreal digital characters move as realistically as possible, little has been done to give them highly stylized movements. Building on computer vision techniques, the new approach, called Cartoon Capture and Retargeting, reads digitized video of a cartoon and creates a representation that is then used much like motion capture data. The accompanying sequence shows how the expressive walking motion of a figure, hand-drawn by a master cartoon animator, is applied to a 3D computer model. The researchers hope the technique will eventually be used in combination with motion capture techniques to give digital characters a greater variety of movements.—Phil LoPiccolo


Images © 2002 ACM, courtesy of Stanford University




technology rendering

Rutgers computer scientists Doug DeCarlo and Anthony Santella have introduced a new approach for transforming digital photographs into simplified, non-photorealistic renderings. The technique entails tracking a person's eye movements as he or she observes a photo, and using the eye-tracking data in conjunction with models of human visual perception to predict which regions of the image the observer finds most important. By highlighting key areas and filtering out the rest, the system automatically transforms the photos into abstract line drawings with bold edges overlaying areas of uniform color. The accompanying images show how the process can be used to transform a typical photograph. The hope is that this technique will make some photos easier to understand because only the most important content is preserved. Future versions may include shading models and animation capabilities. —PL

Images (c) 2002 ACM, courtesy of Doug DeCarlo and Anthony Santella










benchmark

The latest SPECapc for 3ds max benchmark results compare the performances of Dell, IBM, and HP workstations that are all equipped with some variety of graphics card from Nvidia. The winning combination was a 3.06ghz Dell 350 outfitted with Nvidia's high-end Quadro4 900XGL graphics accelerator. For information about these and other benchmarks, visit the SPEC/GPC Web site at www.spec.org/gpc.







news In Brief

Discreet Acquires Technology from 5D

In the fall of last year, 5D (London, UK), a maker of well-regarded film production tools such as 5D Colossus, 5D Commander, and 5D Cyborg, closed its offices and began the process of liquidating its assets. Discreet (a division of Autodesk Canada; Montreal) has recently announced its intention to acquire several of those assets from the former company. Among these are the Cyborg compositing and effects editing and the Commander workflow technologies. According to Discreet, it is currently in the process of integrating these tools with its existing product line.

Discreet has also recently announced the formation of a strategic technology alliance with color-grading software development company Colorfront (Budapest, Hungary). Details of the agreement provide for the joint creation of a new digital color-grading product based on both Colorfront and Discreet technology. The new product will be designed to work with Discreet's inferno, flame, and flint visual effects systems, as well as with its fire and smoke editing systems. Colorfront formerly made the Colossus color-grading system for 5D. —JD
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