Spotlight - October 07
Issue: Volume: 30 Issue: 10 (Oct. 2007)

Spotlight - October 07

Products - Modeling | Animation

Side Effects Launches Houdini 9

Side Effects Software released Houdini 9, which includes a new artist-friendly user interface that makes the software easier to use, as well as python support, fluid dynamics, rendering enhancements, and new character tools.

Pricing for Houdini 9 starts at $1999 for Houdini Escape, which brings Houdini’s node-based workflow to modelers, lighters, animators, and character riggers. Meanwhile, Houdini Master, which costs $7999 and is targeted at VFX artists and TDs, includes the software’s particle and dynamic tools.

The new pricing structure, along with the move to an industry-standard user interface, makes Houdini 9 more accessible to CG artists, particularly for those working in boutique effects houses.

A number of resources are now available, reducing the learning curve for the software. Focal Press has published the first Houdini 9 book, written by Craig Zerouni and called Houdini on the Spot. Also, Houdini 9 tutorial videos will be available from cmiVFX (, and 3D Buzz (] is developing an online class focused on Houdini 9 technical director skills. And, Side Effects is holding regular training classes, with free tutorial videos available online at

Additionally, Side Effects’ Houdini Apprentice program gives students access to Houdini 9 through a free learning edition that contains all of Houdini Master’s features with only a few minor limitations, such as a small wordmark, a maximum render size of 720x576, and a non-commercial file format.

Products - Asset Management

Softimage Optimizes Alienbrain 8 for Artists
Avid Technology has made available Alienbrain 8 software, asset management software developed by Avid’s Softimage subsidiary that enables CG artists to visually track, control versions, manage, and share any kind of digital document—from 3D game assets and models to complex visualization files. Alienbrain 8 introduces plug-ins that integrate with leading 3D and digital content creation applications, so artists can seamlessly edit, save, and collaborate during all stages of the digital production process.

Aware of the growing complexity of high-res models, particularly within the gaming and training/simulation markets, Avid introduced a number of new features in Alienbrain 8 software that address the challenge of managing millions of large-sized assets in a central repository, independent of geographic location. Other new features include: multisite collaboration and remote client setup, a central license server, and multiproject administration.

Alienbrain 8 is available now in the following configurations: Essentials for Programmers, Essentials for Artists, and Advanced. Pricing starts at $495.

Products - Input Devices
Wacom's Bamboo offers Natural Workflow
Recently, Wacom Technology introduced a new corporate look and branding structure, as well as rolled out Bamboo and Bamboo Fun, two new pen tablets that provide a natural and creative digital input.

Bamboo, geared to office productivity, is for consumers looking for an alternative input device. Bamboo Fun replaces the Wacom Graphire4 pen tablet line, and, like the Graphire4, offers features and software for those seeking digital creativity. Bamboo Fun ships with a pen and a mouse, as well as Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Painter Essentials, and Nik Color Efex Pro. Bamboo Fun also comes in four colors (black, silver, white, and blue).  

Both sport a functional design. Four programmable ExpressKeys are situated on the tablet surface to customize commonly used commands, such as Undo or Copy. A finger-sensitive Touch Ring enables quick zooming and scrolling. And the textured tablet work surface provides an intuitive pen-on-paper feel, while the stylish and ergonomically designed pens allow users to experience seemingly unlimited levels of pressure sensitivity, to create variations of pen strokes, from fine lines to bold brush marks.

The offerings work in both Mac and PC (Windows 2000, XP, and Vista) environments. Bamboo costs $79.99, and Bamboo Fun, which ships in small and medium sizes, is priced at $99.99 and $199.99, respectively.

Products - Modeling | Animation
Luxology Adds Scultping and Animation to Modo
Luxology released Modo 301, which includes new sculpting and item animation, as well as extensive improvements to its modeling, painting, and rendering tool sets, making it easier for artists to create, texture, and animate virtually any kind of shape.

Available for both Windows and Mac OS X platforms, Modo 301 combines a powerful, real-time subdivision surface modeling engine with an artist-focused set of tools to speed the creation of 3D content. In addition, the new version features precision modeling and sculpting with snapping functionality and true 3D sculpting tools that speed base mesh creation and the development of organic surface detail. Painting is now threaded for better performance, and strokes can be applied across multiple images and even onto multiple UV maps.

Modo 301 ships with dual licenses that support both Mac OS X and Windows, and sells for $895.

Products - Workstations
Dell Launches New Mobile Workstation
Dell recently introduced the Precision M6300, a mobile workstation offering desktop-level performance.  The Dell Precision M6300 sports some of the latest technologies—within the areas of processors, OpenGL graphics, screen resolutions, and memory—to the necessary performance “on the go.” The M6300 features the latest 64-bit Intel Core 2 Duo and Extreme Edition processors, up to the X7900 (2.8ghz, which is an exclusive offer for mobile workstations). This, combined with Nvidia Quadro  FX1600M OpenGL discrete graphics, is expected to improve performance up to 70 percent in graphics-intensive applications.

The mobile workstation also contains dual-channel memory with 36-bit addressing, which allows for the use of all 4gb of system memory with a 64-bit OS, and high-performance hard drives, including solid-state and encrypted.

Its high-resolution, wide-aspect 17-inch WXGA+, WUXGA anti-glare, and optional TrueLife  displays enables easier viewing of large assemblies, 3D graphics, and video, even in bright ambient environments.
Pricing for the Dell M6300 is less than $2000.

Products - Tracking
Imagineer Systems' Mocha Combines Tracking, Rotoscoping
Imagineer Systems rolled out Mocha, the company’s new standalone tracking station, leveraging Imagineer’s advanced 2.5D planar tracking technology to simplify and significantly accelerate the tracking and rotoscoping workflow for VFX artists.

Mocha’s proprietary Planar Tracking System enables artists to quickly generate accurate corner-pins that can be exported to industry-standard compositing and editing systems. Additionally, Mocha intelligently tracks and transforms roto splines, which can also be exported. This new approach to tracking and rotoscoping results in accurate 2D tracks and quality mattes while requiring far fewer keyframes and adjustments.

Shipping now, Mocha is priced at $2995 for single node-locked licenses.

Products - Motion Visualization
Panoram Unveils Second-Gen, 4K Imaging Table
Panoram Technologies, provider and integrator of visualization technologies, announced the DIT-2 digital imaging table for next-generation collaboration. The DIT-2 delivers 8.5 million pixels of resolution based on a unique application of the upcoming 4k format developed for digital cinema, combining that with a multi-touch infrared control option.

The print-quality image provided by the electronic “light table” is designed for critical visualization applications such as image analysis for intelligence, mapping, command and control, medical and scientific visualization, archeological study, urban planning, and more.

The worktable is ideal for collaborative workflow. And because the information is in digital form, it can be updated and manipulated electronically in real time.
The DIT-2 is available now and is priced at $150,000.

Products - Motion Capture
Moven's Mocap System
Xsens Technologies launched Moven, a comfortable suit with integrated inertial sensors for capturing human motion in real time with lifelike fluidity.

Moven can be used indoors or outdoors. Neither cameras, emitters, markers, nor a dedicated studio are needed for the motion-capture session. So, mocap can be done on location during actual filming, with the actor wearing clothing over the suit. The wireless system’s biomechanical modeling makes complicated, lengthy calibrations unnecessary; furthermore, occlusion or missing markers are no longer issues. Moven transmits the motion data wirelessly to a laptop, which calculates the position and orientation of all body segments in real time.

Moven’s software, Moven Studio, gives a real-time view of the actor and offers the opportunity to evaluate recorded motions by playing it back in normal, fast, and slow motion. Moven Studio provides a data format that is compatible with all major 3D content creation software.

Moven is shipping now for approximately $50,000 for a complete system, including suit, trackers, wireless communication, and the Moven Studio software.

Products - Motion Capture
Vicon on Cutting Edge
Based on its own systems development experience and that of its mocap facility, House of Moves, Vicon recently announced Blade, its new motion-capture processing software system for Vicon’s real-time mocap systems.

Blade provides a single, unified tool set that supports full performance capture and onset playback and visualization. It also makes capturing and processing motion-capture data for 3D animation pipelines simpler and more direct with support for third-party tools through Blade’s plug-in architecture. “Blade puts all the tools into one package to streamline everything that happens to motion-capture data—acquisition, solving, cleanup, and more—when it comes off the cameras, through to integrating it into a 3D software package,” says a company spokesman.

The software contains a streamlined system configuration, along with scalable, automated tools. Its intelligent solving algorithms provide users with clean and accurate motion data, while the production tools enable the capture of facial, finger, and body data. 

Blade is available now for just under $16,000.

Products - Compositing
Toxik 2008 Bridges 2D and 3D Workflows
Autodesk launched Toxik 2008, the latest version of its desktop software for feature-film procedural compositing. Designed for visual effects artists, Toxik 2008 combines an extensive creative tool set with real-time, interactive compositing of high dynamic range imagery.

Toxik 2008 is available as a stand-alone product on both the Windows and Linux operating systems. It offers greater interoperability with Autodesk Maya 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software, thereby helping artists combine 2D and 3D techniques to solve complex production problems.

“The growing scale and complexity of computer-generated imagery in visual effects work is driving convergence between 2D and 3D pipelines,” says Marc Petit, senior vice president, Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “Transferring camera and rendering information from Maya to Toxik allows artists to make creative decisions in an interactive environment, in the context of live-action footage or computer-generated elements. This gives artists more freedom to experiment and allows them to quickly achieve the shot they want for their client.”

With the latest technology in HDRI, Toxik 2008 gives users a greater dynamic range of exposures than traditional digital imaging techniques, accurately representing a wide range of intensity levels, ranging from direct sunlight to the deepest shadows. With the combination of real-time, interactive compositing of 2k, 4k, and higher-resolution imagery, and a deep creative tool set, Toxik 2008 allows users to combine compelling computer-generated and live action.

Toxik 2008 will be available this fall for $3485. 

Products - Animation
A Massive Debut
Massive Software released Massive 3.0, a major upgrade to its AI-driven animation system, with improved dynamics, dynamic hair and fur, lanes, layer simulations, and more. 

Massive allows artists to create and direct any object, human, or animal to deliver realistic and emotive virtual performances. New in Version 3.0 are texture maps to control all hair parameters, directional lanes to simplify traffic simulations with multiple layers, interactive viewing of subdivision surfaces on hundreds or thousands of agents in the viewport, and built-in simulation passes to set up multiple layers of simulation for such things as performance, dynamics, hair, and cloth more quickly and efficiently. Improved dynamics make it possible for agents to seamlessly transition back from dynamics into performing motion-captured or keyframed actions.

Massive Jet 3.0, delivering out-of-the-box functionality, is available for $5999 per license, while Massive 3.0, for customization and the ability to create and edit agents, costs $17,999 per license.