Spotlight - 9/03
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 9 (September 2003)

Spotlight - 9/03

The staff of Computer Graphics World ventured to the West Coast for SIGGRAPH 2003, the 30th Annual International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. The editors were among 24,332 attendees from 77 countries, as well as 240 companies exhibiting in the approximately 68,000 square-foot floor space. These pages highlight several announcements made during the show. SIGGRAPH 2004 will be held August 8–12 in Los Angeles. —Courtney E. Howard



A developer of 3D camera-tracking software solutions, 2d3 recently released SteadyMove Pro.

Designed for film and video professionals and prosumers, SteadyMove Pro is a shot-stabilization software plug-in for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, and Discreet combustion. The new release employs the company's vision science techniques to generate smooth clips from shaky video sequences automatically. It studies the images, calculates camera movement from one frame to another, and uses the information gleaned to remove unwanted movement. SteadyMove Pro provides users not only complete control over the amount of smoothing applied, but also access to built-in cropping, smoothing, edge-filling, and other controls.

Now available for purchase, SteadyMove Pro is priced at $99. The company also announced that a version of its automated camera-stabilization tool is being bundled with Adobe Premiere Pro. —CEH



Instant Effects made its public debut in the computer graphics industry at SIGGRAPH 2003. The new company previewed its graphics technology targeted at the business presentation market. In fact, the company's fully customizable FXThemes are interactive, layered 3D environments designed to combine seamlessly with presentation content. Demonstrated in conjunction with Nvidia's Quadro FX hardware during the show, Instant Effects' technology enables users to improve visual communications within business environments through the integration of sophisticated 3D graphics with Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. —CEH

Instant Effects;


Apple has announced the availability of its professional DVD authoring application, DVD Studio Pro 2.

Newly re-designed to simplify the authoring process, DVD Studio Pro 2 offers an array of new and upgraded features, including tighter integration with the company's popular Final Cut Pro 4 video editing software.

Timeline-based track editing, a new MPEG-2 encoder, a menu editor, and an array of fully customizable templates help round out the latest version.

Apple DVD.Studio Pro 2 users are presented with the option of implementing the Apple-designed templates or creating their own templates from the ground up. The included templates, able to be shared and reused, come complete with various styles, buttons, and backgrounds. The English-language version of DVD Studio Pro 2 is available now at a suggested retail price of $499. —CEH



Sharp Systems of America has amended its Actius RD line of desktop-replacement notebook computers with the RD20 high-performance mobile system.

The RD20 benefits from an Intel Pentium 4 3.06ghz processor, a Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition operating system, a 60gb hard drive, and 512mb DDR SDRAM. Targeted at professional imaging and video and gaming applications, the Actius RD20 sports a 15-inch XGA LCD offering 1024x768 resolution and viewing angles of 160 degrees horizontally and 135 degrees vertically.

The new Sharp Actius RD20 notebook computer also takes advantage of Nvidia's GeForce 4 440 Go graphics processing unit offering 64mb of graphics memory. As well as support for DVD-RAM technology, the Actius RD20 system offers sharp-fx DVD optimization software and a DVD multi-drive compatible with DVD-R/RW/RAM and CD-R/RW media. It also includes Memory Stick, SmartMedia, SD, and CompactFlash memory card slots, an IEEE 1394 port, and four USB 2.0-compliant ports. —CEH

Sharp Systems of America;


Graphics accelerators gained significant attention from attendees at SIGGRAPH 2003. A leader in the field, 3Dlabs demonstrated the OpenGL Shading Language on its Wildcat VP990 Pro graphics card in conjunction with the RenderMonkey shader development tool suite. 3Dlabs is reportedly the first company to ship a preliminary implementation of the OpenGL Shading Language, a standardized and cross-platform extension to OpenGL 1.5. Working in collaboration, 3Dlabs and ATI Technologies plan to release RenderMonkey with OpenGL Shading Language support in the coming months. —CEH



Visual effects facilities often are given the task of making CG imagery look so realistic that the intended effects are invisible to the audience. Recently, ComputerCafe (Santa Maria, CA) pushed the unseen to new limits while crafting digital shots of the Invisible Man in 20th Century Fox's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG).

ComputerCafe created a digital version of actor Tony Curran's head for his role as the Invisible Man in the film LXG.
Images © 2003 20th Century Fox. Courtesy ComputerCafe.

Based on the comic-book series, the film features a band of legendary literary misfits and heroes, including the Invisible Man, who are assembled to foil a madman's maniacal plot. When actor Claude Rains portrayed the Invisible Man in the 1933 version of the movie, he wore bandages, gloves, an overcoat, and dark glasses in order to be "seen." He simply became invisible by shedding his garb. Seventy years later, ComputerCafe created an Invisible Man for the 21st century—a character who renders himself viewable by smearing white greasepaint on his face and donning a black leather jacket. When he's undetectable, his shape is defined by the surrounding environment, such as by snowflakes that fall around an empty space of his form.

According to Scott Gordon, visual effects supervisor at ComputerCafe, the director wanted to use practical effects whenever possible. "Early on, we knew that wouldn't be possible in the shots where the Invisible Man applies greasepaint, because his hands cross over his face, and we need to see the back of his fingertips," he ex-plains. "So we re-created those elements digitally."

During the filming of these scenes, Tony Curran, the actor who plays the current role, wore blue clothing and blue makeup on the exposed areas of his skin, including his face. He was then removed from the scenes during postproduction, and re-created in CG, as was any object he occluded by walking in front of it, for instance.

A new facial performance-capture system enabled CG artists to accurately replicate Curran's expressions.

A digital version of the actor was then generated. First, technicians from Eyetronics used the company's portable facial performance-capture system to record and track Curran's facial movements using small tracking dots. The team then correlated that information with the captured 3D data of his facial geometry and deformations. This produced an accurate 3D facial shape on a frame-by-frame basis that captured the subtle transitions between his expressions.

"The director wanted to give the audience a sense of the character's mood by the way he recites his lines, so we [used this method] to faithfully reproduce Curran's performance," says animation supervisor Domenic DiGiorgio.

To ensure that the capture session mimicked the filmed performance, Curran re-enacted the scenes during the capture session as the original footage and dialogue played in the background. In all, it took four to six hours to complete 10 to 15 takes for each of the four Invisible Man scenes completed by ComputerCafe.

After the capture sessions, the Eyetronics team processed the data and applied it to a finished cyberscan template of the Invisible Man's face, then delivered the file in Alias Systems' Maya format. Next, ComputerCafe, added the texture for the greasepaint and tracked the facial motion to Curran's body. The artists animated the facial movement in Maya, and exported it into NewTek's LightWave, where they lit, textured, and rendered the imagery. Finally, the team composited the 3D imagery into the live action using eyeon Software's Digital Fusion.

Although the character is intended to be invisible, the technology used to create that effect did not go unnoticed. —Karen Moltenbrey

Maya, Alias Systems;
Facial performance-capture


With braided hair, simple clothing, and bare head and arms, the 8-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary in the recently dedicated Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles deviates from her usual portrayal with flowing robes, a veil, and a halo. Just as Mary's depiction defies the traditional, so did the methods used to create it.

The 1000-pound statue is the work of sculptor Robert Graham, who initially handcrafted a 30-inch model from plastilene, an oil- and wax-based clay that holds detail but does not harden. From that, he generated a mold and polyurethane cast, used to design the clothing. After this version was approved by the archdiocese of Los Angeles, it was digitized at Scansite in Woodacre, California, so that the much larger version could be realized.

When completed, the statue (above right) was installed above 20-foot ornate doors (above), also crafted by the sculptor.
Images courtesy Robert Graham Studios.

Technology was central to achieving the detail and subtlety required to convey Graham's vision. "The challenge I set was to make [Mary] majestic while dispensing with the usual trappings and signals of majesty," says Graham of his statue. "There is no crown, no scepter, no throne; only her regal beauty, her invincible self-possession, and the abstract perfection of her gown, like an apparition in its wrinkle-free smoothness and impossible triangle symmetry."

Before it was scanned, the polyurethane cast was painted gray to ensure flat, even surfaces. Then, technicians at Scansite digitized the object using a Cyberware MM laser scanner for the head, which required more detail, and a Cyberware MS3030 for the rest. "Once the point-cloud data was collected from multiple scans of the entire model, we separated the figure into pieces and conducted detailed scans of the head, body, arms, hands, and feet," says Noriko Fujinami, director of Robert Graham Studios. This enabled the group to capture all the necessary geometry of the organic structure.

Using Geomagic Studio, technicians accurately reproduced the organic shapes of Robert Graham's original sculpture.
Image courtesy Scansite.

The team at Scansite then merged the data of varying resolutions from each scan to create a highly detailed point-cloud model of the entire figure. Next, the group input the final file, which contained more than 1.7 million polygons, into Geomagic Studio software from Raindrop Geomagic, so a polygonal file could be created from the organic shapes. Engineers at Ctek, a service bureau in Tustin, California, also used Geomagic Studio to enlarge the sculpture from its original 30-inch size to the final 8-foot version. "When you enlarge the surface data in a polygonal file, you enlarge the facets too," says Javier Valdivieso, executive vice president at Ctek. The engineers, he explains, used Geomagic's subdivision tool to generate a watertight surface from which the volume of the finished piece could be determined. Using this volume, the team created an internal armature to support the weight of the final bronze sculpture.

The resulting surfaces were output to milling machines at Ctek's headquarters, where the full-sized figure was generated in four pieces from clay. According to Fujinami, each section was made 3 percent larger due to shrinkage caused by the bronze-casting process. Once the parts were milled, they were transferred to Graham's studio, where he resurfaced them by hand.

After the final clay models were completed, silicone rubber molds were made, from which Graham cast the bronze statue. The bronze pieces were later assembled and welded. The final work was transported from Graham's studio and installed at the cathedral site, where it sits atop a gilded architectural space above large, ornate front doors that also were crafted by Graham. —KM

MM and MS3030 laser scanners, Cyberware;
Geomagic Studio, Raindrop Geomagic;


A novel combination of surveillance and Internet technologies designed to track individuals in public environments and communicate with them using narrowly focused sound beams was demonstrated in the Emerging Technologies exhibition at SIGGRAPH 2003. Developed by New York-based media artist Marie Sester, the Access system is built around a Web site that displays real-time video of a public space. Using the site as the control center, a user can select any person in view of the video camera, and a computer-vision device will automatically move a robotic spotlight to follow the individual's movements. The device focuses an acoustic beam to send messages that only the person being tracked can hear. Key tools used in developing the system include real-time video analysis and motion-tracking algorithms, Intel's Computer Vision Libraries, Microsoft's DirectShow API, and Macromedia's Flash MX Communication Server. Because the system requires real-time interaction, low-latency streaming innovations also had to be developed. Access serves as a proof-of-concept system, but it was designed as a public art installation to explore the impact of surveillance in contemporary society. —Phil LoPiccolo

Image courtesy ACM and Marie Sester.


Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Alias|Wavefront not only announced a name change to Alias Systems, but also introduced a new logo and new branding during SIGGRAPH 2003 in San Diego.... NewTek received the Academy of Tele-vision Arts and Sciences Emmy Engineering Plaque for 2003 for its LightWave 3D animation software. The company also revealed that all five Emmy nominees in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series category and two nominees in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special category employed LightWave 3D in their projects.... SPEC/GPC's Appli-cation Performance Characterization (SPECapc) project group introduced a benchmark and total system performance results based on Maya 5, the latest version of Alias's 3D animation and effects software. For details, visit SPEC/GPC's Web site at In an effort to expand its reach and better serve game enthusiasts, GameWyze is offering the opportunity to open franchise centers across the U.S. Each game center would serve as a community hub—complete with the latest computers, consoles, games, and more—for computer/console-based entertainment.... Discreet has entered into a strategic partnership with Criterion Software, makers of RenderWare, to develop and promote tools designed to improve the game-development pipeline between 3ds max and RenderWare. —Courtney E. Howard


Computer workstations continue to top the list of items that studios are planning to buy during the second half of 2003 and early 2004, according to a new Visual Effects/Dynamic Media Report from TrendWatch. Seven out of 10 studios plan to make an investment in one or more units, which represents a 10 percent increase in demand from just six months ago. Breaking down purchasing plans by platform, we find that PCs are on course to overtake Macs as the computer of choice. Some 44 percent plan to buy Macintosh systems, an increase of just 3 percent from six months earlier. Conversely, 42 percent now plan to buy PC workstations—predominately with Windows XP Pro operating systems—a gain of 12 percent over the same period.

In other categories, spending for video editing software is expected to rise, albeit gradually from 49 to 51 percent. Investment in production servers may nearly double from 25 to 45 percent. Demand for DVD hardware and software will likely decline, since many studios have already invested in these tools after DVDs became the media of choice for client reels and demos. Desktop compositing system sales are expected to remain steady. And demand for digital video editing systems is expected to rise by 6 percent. While DV editing purchases will be evenly split between mid-range and high-end systems, more investment will be made in HD than in SD systems. —Jim Whittington, principal of market research firm TrendWatch, Inc., Mill Valley, CA.