Issue: Volume: 33 Issue: 3 (Mar. 2010)



Luxology Sheds New Light on CG Imagery

Luxology, an independent technology company developing next-generation 3D content creation software, presented a new Studio Lighting & Illumination Kit (SLIK), created by Yazan Malkosh, which includes an extensive collection of presets, scenes, items, materials, and video tutorials to help customers light computer-generated (CG) creations. Designed specifically for users of Modo, Luxology’s 3D modeling, painting, and rendering application, SLIK provides realistic lighting of scenes that mimics those found in the real world of photography.

“CG artists and designers often spend a fair amount of time refining lighting solutions to bring out the best in their models,” says Brad Peebler, president of Luxology. “With SLIK, artists are easily able to bring the realism of a studio shoot into a CG-based production and create amazing 3D renderings that are vivid and believable.”

The kit includes an extensive collection of accurately modeled lights, tripods, booms, cameras, reflectors, and platform backdrops, all of which have been modeled to a high level of detail to bring studio-quality production values to customers’ scenes. The kit also includes prebuilt lighting setups that support small-, medium-, and large-scale, as well as portrait studio, photography. The Studio Lighting & Illumination Kit is available now for $125. To use the kit, users must have Modo 401, sold separately.

Nvidia RealityServer Propels 3D Cloud Computing

Nvidia and Mental Images revealed the RealityServer platform for cloud computing, a combination of GPUs and software that streams interactive, photorealistic 3D applications to any Web-connected PC, laptop, netbook, and smart phone.

Nvidia RealityServer—the culmination of nearly 40 collective years of hardware and software engineering by Nvidia and Mental Images—enables developers to create a new generation of consumer and enterprise 3D Web applications, all with high levels of photorealism. For instance, automobile product engineering teams will be able to securely share and visualize complex 3D models of cars under different lighting and environmental conditions, while architects and their clients will be able to review sophisticated architectural models, rendered in different settings, including day or night. Online shoppers will be able to interactively design home interiors, rearrange furniture, and view how fabrics will drape—all with perfectly accurate lighting.

The RealityServer platform comprises an Nvidia Tesla RS GPU-based server running RealityServer software from Mental Images. While photorealistic imagery has traditionally taken hours or days to create, this unique, integrated solution streams images of photorealistic scenes at rates approaching an interactive gaming experience. RealityServer software utilizes Mental Images’ Iray technology, the world’s first physically correct raytracing renderer that employs the massively parallel CUDA architecture of Nvidia GPUs to create accurate photorealistic images by simulating the physics of light in its interaction with objects.

The RealityServer platform is available now. Tesla RS configurations start at eight GPUs and scale to support increasing numbers of simultaneous users.

JVC IF-2D3D1 Aids Stereo Workflow

JVC Professional Products unveiled the IF-2D3D1 stereo image processor, available this month, which works as a 2D-to-3D converter and as a 3D left/right mixer.

Compatible with various HD formats, the offering is designed to help 3D content producers improve their workflow, whether they’re  converting archived 2D material or shooting original content
in 3D.

Through the use of unique JVC algorithms, the IF-2D3D1 converts 2D content to 3D in real time, offering no fewer than four 3D mixed formats—line-by-line, side-by-side half, above-below, and checkerboard which combine left-eye and right-eye images for stereo video output on a compatible device. Additionally, the IF-2D3D1 can output discrete left and right signals via HD-SDI or HDMI for dual projection or editing. Output can be adjusted for parallax (image displacement) and 3D intensity­­—both with natural, anaglyph, and sequential viewing modes.

Generally, 3D footage is shot using a pair of stereo cameras, but producers had no practical way of real-time monitoring on location. The IF-2D3D1 combines the left/right images, and users only need a 3D-capable monitor to view the results.

Content creation workflow can also be improved through the Scope feature, which provides a waveform monitor and vectorscope for comparing both video streams on a display to ensure that the settings for both cameras match. The Split feature combines the two video streams on one screen with a moveable boundary, allowing instant left/right comparison. Rotation ensures that both streams can be viewed the right way up and in sync when one of the two cameras has to be positioned upside down to ensure correct spacing.

The IF-2D3D1 costs $30,000.

User Focus:

Blur Studios Hooks Audiences with Animated Goldfish Campaign

If you missed the third season final episode of the Goldfish crackers animated commercial series, Gilbert is gone. The unfortunate cracker character was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. But Gilbert’s loss turned out to be Blur Studios’ gain.

The Venice, California-based production company designed, developed, produced, and finished the follow-on 10-spot series of commercials for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and ad agency Young & Rubicam.

Blur created a series of animated television commercials that follow the CG Goldfish on exciting, colorful out-of-bowl experiences.

The Season 4 series featured the familiar cast of adventurous animated Goldfish characters (plus a few new friends), but it marked the first time the campaign presented a progressive story arc spanning 10 commercials: the search for Gilbert. Directed by Blur’s Leo Santos and executive produced by Blur’s Al Shier, the series debuted in mid-November, with new spots revealing twists in the Goldfish mystery every six weeks.

The first spot, “Blast Off,” took the Goldfish gang on a paper airplane ride in search of their lost friend. It was the first time in the multi-season campaign in which the Goldfish characters explored environments outside their world “under the bed.” In Season 4, they engage in action-packed antics that included flying down a staircase, going for a spin on a cuckoo clock, and playing chase with a hound dog.
Blur’s animation team worked on the campaign for a year, which included three months of preproduction and nine months of animation.

Young & Rubicam, New York selected Blur after a multi-vendor proposal/test process. Having completed multiple film, television, commercial, and game projects, Blur’s animation team was well versed in character animation and ready to dive into this project. Content producer Salima Millott says, “We selected Blur for Season 4 because we wanted an entire season of episodic spots with a cinematic look and feel. Blur delivered and treated our commercials as they would a film or television project, with film-quality animation, environments, and nuanced performances.”

According to art director/CG supervisor Dan Rice, to help define the characters’ world view, Blur created what the crew termed “the Goldfish Perspective.” “We asked ourselves, ‘How does the everyday world look from a cracker’s point of view?’ We used a variety of editorial tricks to draw the audience into each adventure. Micro lens photography brought the audience up close and personal to the characters, and building an entirely CG world gave us great flexibility and allowed our cameras to get into the nooks and crannies of this large world, which created a totally new experience for audiences.” 

Santos adds, “We packed an incredible amount of action into each tale. We pushed our camera work to convey how large and exciting a regular living room would be for characters as small as ours.”

Rice notes that color and light also helped drive the story throughout. “Rich textures, realistic materials, and environments made the final sophisticated touches to give top-notch production value to the whole campaign. We wanted audiences to feel the fuzziness of a rug, the textures of a couch … that kind of thing, to give them the sense that they’re right there.”

With familiar, compelling characters at the heart of the series, reinforcing the Goldfish characters’ personalities and relationships was a key component of the project. “As a group, these characters needed to be like a community of friends that kids can identify with,” says Santos. “Each Goldfish character has a distinct personality, from exuberant to adventurous, and the animation really brought them to life. It was important that each could be expressive in close-up shots, and they needed to talk and emote with believability.”

Blur modeled and animated the characters and backgrounds using Softimage, and used 3ds Max for further set work and for effects.

Rice points out, “We worked carefully on the character rigging, color, and textures to give them a lifelike feel, and emphasized their distinct personalities through shape, form, and color to help kids associate with each character’s individual traits.”

To bring the characters and environments to life, Blur used Autodesk’s Softimage for character animation and modeling. The artists completed the environments and effects using Autodesk’s 3ds Max, and used Mental Images’ Mental Ray to render the spots and add cinematic lighting effects.

With compelling characters and lots of adventure, Blur created a cinematic series that hooked young audiences even further into the Goldfish world. While each TV spot is a self-contained adventure, when viewed in a series on the Web, they play like a six-minute animated short film.

For Blur, the project was a true pleasure to produce. “This was such a great campaign to work on. It’s character-driven and story-driven—an epic journey,” says Shier. For Young & Rubicam, the experience was positive, as well. Says Millott, “Blur artists are not only incredibly creative, they are also just great people to work with.”

As for Gilbert … you’ll have to check to find out how he fared.