Spotlight - 7/06
Karen Moltenbrey, Chief Editor
Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 7 (July 2006)

Spotlight - 7/06

AutoDesSys Improves its FormZ

Enhanced with a number of new features and functionality, FormZ 6.0 will be released this month at SIGGRAPH by maker AutoDesSys. Some of the new features include animation, 3D printing with color and textures, and a number of others that extend the software’s modeling power.

The release will have object-centric animation, meaning the object retains its integrity during the animation process. FormZ animates well-defined objects complete with their parameters and attributes, which can also be freely animated. This potentially makes the animation process a modeling venue that can generate forms beyond what is possible through conventional means. At any stage during the animation process, models can even be captured as different types of objects. FormZ 6.0 also offers a seamlessly integrated animation environment, where objects, lights, and cameras can be animated and transformed over time.

In addition, AutoDesSys offers a venue to prototype its objects not only in color but with textures, as well, through Z Corp.’s new ZPR file format, which is optimized to support geometry and color capabilities of current 3DP systems, providing an option for those needing a tangible example of their project in color and with textures. FormZ also sports a new 3D print preparation tool.

Also, the new release contains a number of new modeling capabilities, including a morphing ability that allows users to pick two objects, the source, and the destination, and have the shape of the former change to the shape of the other by a certain percent. The operation can be executed dynamically or in one step, and can be used as part of an animation or by itself. FormZ 6.0 will be priced at $1495. Updates from previous versions are available for a reduced cost.

The New Virtual Fashion Basic

E-frontier has accessorized its product line with the new release of Virtual Fashion Basic for Poser, easy-to-learn design software for the creation of dresses, jackets, skirts, shoes, and other 3D design garments. Originally developed for high-end designers such as Gucci, Prada, and La Perla, Virtual Fashion Basic for Poser was modified to incorporate Poser characters and export “dynamic clothing” directly into Poser libraries.

Virtual Fashion has an intuitive user interface that makes creating garments for Poser figures easier than ever. The work flow-based interface moves users through a series of steps to quickly create almost any garment. After the garment is designed, fabric choices such as silk, cotton, denim, or fur are selected and simulated in the Fitting Room module. In PhotoStudio, lights and camera angles are set, and print-ready images are produced in a virtual photo shoot. The last step uses the Material Editor module to adjust materials and change fabric colors.

Poser users export garments created in Virtual Fashion in the native Poser file format. The program creates its own runtime folders in Poser and automatically uploads every new garment into the Poser library.

Virtual Fashion Basic for Poser sells for $99.99.

RealViz Offers a VTour

Image-processing software developer RealViz has unveiled VTour, the latest addition to the company’s content creation offerings. VTour draws on the technology of RealViz’s Stitcher and Image Modeler products, offering users a solution for creating photorealistic 3D environments from 2D photos or panoramas.

Starting directly from digital photographs or full 360-degree panoramas (crafted, for example, using Stitcher), VTour facilitates the creation of 3D scenes such as interiors or urban areas using polygonal photo-textured primitives. The results can then be exported and published as a 3D movie or an interactive application using 3D viewers such as Spi-V3d (based on Shockwave).

VTour is ideal for a range of applications such as virtual walkthroughs of buildings and monuments, 3D simulation, virtual reality, urban planning, and video games. It can also be used for the creation of digital sets in film and television. In this way, the product complements RealViz’s StoryViz, 3D previz and storyboard software for creating photoreal backdrops for previsualized projects.

VTour is available for Windows 2000/ XP for $499. A Mac version will be available in September.

Houdini 8.1 Appears in 3D for Animators

Side Effects Software has released Houdini 8.1, featuring an animator-friendly Auto Rig, Muscle System, Character Picker, and Pose Library, as well as other enhancements to the Rigid Body and Wire dynamic solvers. The new version also supports the importation of Collada files, an open digital asset exchange schema for interactive 3D applications.

A new Biped Auto Rig tools lets artists quickly position their character’s joints and generate production-ready rigs at the touch of a button. It creates both an animation rig with built-in proxy geometry for blocking and a separate capture rig for deforming geometry. These rigs are created as Houdini Digital Assets and form the backbone of the character pipeline. Moreover, technical directors can customize the animation team’s rig to conform to their preferred way of working.

For capturing and binding geometry, Houdini 8.1 includes a new approach that is ideal for setting up fully functional muscle system using a system of meatball-based muscles that can be used in place of bones for capturing the geometry.

Houdini 8.1 is priced at $17,000; through September, users also can save up to 40 percent on Houdini Master.

Eyeon Fuses Together Updates

Eyeon Software continues to build momentum with the release of Fusion 5.02 by adding approximately 100 new features and enhancements to the compositing software’s core architecture. Fusion 5.02’s OpenGL acceleration with display views makes interactive viewing more flexible, while the new GPU-accelerated plug-in architecture and LUT system make for easy transitions between multiple-display LUTs.

Tailoring and improving the product based on demand and ongoing artist feedback, Eyeon has added a plethora of cutting-edge innovations, such as format improvements, to give Fusion the ability to read DV OMF and 32-bit float PSDs from Photoshop CS2. OpenEXR format options now display a drop-down list that shows available channels. The product also has new enhanced optimization tools that affect all blur-based tools and functions, resulting in as much as a 30 percent increase in performance. And, the company has added more than 20 new scripting functions.

Fusion 5.02 pricing starts at $1295 for the DFX+ video version, and $2995 to $4995 for the film versions.

ArtVPS, Mental Ray Team on New Raytracing Solution

Two of the industry’s largest commercial forces in rendering—ArtVPS and Mental Images—have formed a partnership that will result in an integration of their respective products, which will cater to the increasing demand for photorealistic visualization of 3D data within the design sector.

ArtVPS, developer of a unique graphics processor for photorealistic raytracing, and Mental Images, developer of the high-end Mental Ray rendering software, will further the evolution of advanced raytracing solutions. As part of the deal, Mental Images will license intellectual property from ArtVPS with the exclusive right to its sub-licensing. In turn, ArtVPS will become an OEM partner of Mental Images for the integration of Mental Ray into future 64-bit versions of its RenderDrive products. Also, the company will become a system integrator for RealityServer, a unique software platform for the development and deployment of 3D Web services and applications from Mental Images.

According to a Mental Images spokesman, the partnership will allow the duo to explore the use of dedicated graphics processing hardware architectures for the acceleration of raytracing algorithms within Mental Ray and RealityServer without compromising on image quality. The collaboration will cater specifically to the demand for photorealistic visualization in product marketing, design, architecture, and the automotive segment, where photorealism and real-world lighting is a requirement for that market’s 3D imagery.

Working Under Extreme Conditions

West Post Digital, a boutique postproduction facility specializing in HD and SD online finishing and color correction, recently completed work for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition—After the Storm. The work was for a series of four shows featuring rebuilding projects in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas following major destructive hurricanes.

West Post Digital had been handling online finishing for the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition reality series since its premiere in 2003. “We’ve been able to streamline processes to where we can completely finish an entire show in about 24 hours,” says West Post Digital co-owner Kenny Fields.

It was this ability to make “Extreme” deadlines that led producers to select the facility to complete work on the special editions. The group did all the finishing process— assembling, conforming, and color-correcting the shots, as well as titling, in standard definition. The assembly/conform/ titling was done on an Avid Symphony system and a Symphony Nitris running on a Unity. Meanwhile, the group performed the color grading on a daVinci 2K system.

According to colorist Paul Roman, the ability to color-correct the show in real time on the daVinci while conforming and titling simultaneously on the Symphony played a big role in helping the group finish the episodes quickly and at a high quality. Pre-digitizing fine cuts (a show in progress that will change but has a lot of what will end up in the final version) and digitizing only new shots in the locked picture instead of the whole cut also helped bring the show in under deadline.

“The most challenging aspect is time,” says Fields. “The locked cut is not delivered until the last minute. We pre-digitized with handles, so if slight adjustments were made in the off-line, we didn’t have to re-digitize the clips. By pre-digitizing the fine cuts with handles, we were able to relink once the locked cut came in—late in the process— making the digitizing of the locked cut much faster. So, instead of digitizing 1500 clips from scratch, we only had to do about 200 to 300 at that point.”

Each Extreme Makeover: Home Edition features a construction project that is essentially a race against time. Similarly, shooting, editing, and posting it is another race against time— one that West Post Digital has consistently won under these Extreme conditions. — Karen Moltenbrey

A TV Commercial Hits its Target

The department store Target is known for its whimsical, stylized television commercials that feature men, women, and children—and, of course, the signature Target dog— moving at a fast pace within a setting dominated by its other signature of red and white colors and bull’s eye. Recently, the store began a new “Product People” campaign that contains a similar colorful, active, and theatrical look as the previous commercials. But, on the other hand, it is a marked departure from the earlier design-oriented spots: In place of the energetic actors are energetic 3D characters made from everyday items that can be purchased at the store.

After completing the design phase, Radium, which crafted the spot, used Autodesk’s Maya to model all the objects that would later comprise the characters, from a “woman” composed of nail polish and cosmetic–related items to an “athlete” made from sporting goods: a football face, tennis ball eyes, and a basketball belly.

Next, the crew photographed the actual products under studio lighting, first to enhance their natural color and texture, and then to give them a photoreal quality and retail appeal that would be retained in CG. The lighting pipeline was based on global illumination techniques to achieve the desired mix between photorealism and stylization, notes Aladino Debert, lead CG artist and head of CG at Radium.

The group had to design characters that would be not only photorealistic, but also fun to watch. Their anthropomorphic nature dictated that the artists use motion capture for the animation. So, first the artists created simple rigs of each character within Maya that mocap facility House of Moves (HOM) used during motion-capture sessions. At HOM, the animation was derived by motion-capturing a set of live dance performers (seven dancers responsible for a total of 14 actor/character combinations) within a 40x40-foot capture space using a Vicon MX 40 camera setup. During the process, all the “Product People” characters were shown in real time to give the director and the actors/dancers the ability to see how each of the characters moved. Real-time video feeds allowed the client and Radium creative team to approve the performance prior to animation.

“There were a lot of character rigs, and they were very complex and needed attention from our technical directors to ensure that there would be reliable real-time feedback and a high-quality final product that matched exactly what was seen on set,” says Scott Gagain, executive producer at HOM. “It was one of our larger commercial productions. The set was packed with dancers and clients, but it was also fun, and it shows in the final product.”

Once the animation data was delivered, Radium used its layered controls to finesse the motion, which Debert says was “90 percent there.” Next, the group textured the images, and then rendered them using Mental Images’ Mental Ray. “We were modeling, lighting, texturing, and rendering so that everything had a real feel. The animation comes to life via motion capture,” he notes.

The biggest challenge, though, resulted not from the complex motions but from the complexity of the entire piece, with 16 3D characters and full CG environments—a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, hallway, and more, all textured using Target’s signature red-and-white color palette throughout for brand recognition.

“The project required that many parallel processes move forward in a smooth way. For example, as we were finishing the character design, the set designs were moving ahead, along with the final storyboards and rehearsals with the dancers,” says Debert. “In the end, though, all those at-times disjointed processes came together to give the spot a unique look."