Issue: Volume 35 Issue 3 April/May 2012

Spotlight


HP Unveils New Workstations

HP has added new multicore updates and increased expandability to its line of HP Z Workstations, which now feature the latest eight-core Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family, offer up to 512gb of DDR3 memory, and support multithreaded workstation applications. The updated line also features third-generation PCI Express technology.



The HP Z820 ($2,299), designed for CAD, medical, animation, and engineering, provides up to 16 processing cores, up to 512gb of ECC memory, up to 14tb of high-speed storage, and up to dual Nvidia Quadro 6000 graphics. For quiet environments with minimal space, the HP Z620 ($1,649) supports both single- and dual-socket processors and provides up to 16 processing cores, up to 96gb of ECC memory, up to 11tb of high-speed storage, and Nvidia Quadro 6000 or dual Quadro 5000 or better graphics cards. Engineered for CAD, architecture, video editing, and photography, the HP Z420 ($1,169) includes up to eight processing cores using the latest Intel Xeon processor E5-1600 and E5-2600 product families, providing up to 64gb of ECC memory, up to 11tb of high-speed storage, and up to Nvidia Quadro 5000 or dual Quadro 2000 or better graphics cards.

The Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family allows for up to 16 physical cores in a single system and lets 32 threads run at one time when using two processors, each with eight cores and Intel Hyper-Threading Technology enabled.

OptiTrack Offers Flex

OptiTrack is offering Flex 13, the first megapixel motion-capture camera for under $1,000. The combination of an expansive field of view (56 degrees) and 1.3 million-pixel sensor resolution enables the Flex 13 to track complex, multiple-actor scenes with a substantial volume-to-setup ratio. When deployed with the stock 56-degree lens in a standard 20 x 20-foot arrangement, the camera can attain an active capture area that is among the largest in the industry, allowing for extensive capture volumes even in modest tracking environments.

Luxology Ships Modo 601

Luxology has rolled out Modo 601, a new release of its 3D content creation software that includes character animation, built-in dynamics, volumetric rendering, and enhanced re-topology modeling tools and can serve as a full pipeline solution.
 
Modo 601 offers a range of character animation functionality, from easy-to-use posing tools to the creation of fully articulated character rigs that can be manipulated through a full-body IK solver and a general-purpose system of layered deformers. Rigid- and soft-body dynamics, based on Version 2.79 of the Bullet Physics engine, are now a standard and provide realistic simulations of mechanical and organic motion.

New photorealistic rendering capabilities include volumetric rendering, render booleans, hair and skin shaders, and rounded edge control for hard-surface models. Cel, contour, and halftone shaders enable enhanced non-photorealistic rendering. The multi-purpose paint system is extended to paint, scale, erase, and smooth vertex (weight) maps on meshes. Modo 601 is available for Mac OS X and Windows and costs $1,195.

‘Steady as She Goes’ for the Workstation Market

The workstation market proceeded ahead in the fourth quarter of 2011, completing a long climb back from the 2009 depths of the global economic recession that had slashed its shipments by over 40 percent. But that fourth-quarter advance was more a case of “steady as she goes” than “full speed ahead,” reports Jon Peddie Research Senior Analyst Alex Herrera.

The leading market research firm has completed its data collection and analysis of results from the quarter and finds Q4 followed the same basic storyline Herrera had been laying out over the previous few quarters. The market has not only fully recovered from the recession, it’s showing continued stability and some undeniable signs of strength. But at the same time, there remains scattered pockets of concern, as the market has yet to resume the pace of growth it sustained back in the years 2005 through 2008.

In the third quarter, the market for the first time exceeded one million units shipped, clear evidence it had more than made up for the steep decline of late 2008 and 2009. Q4 couldn’t quite cross that million-unit mark, although it came close. All told, approximately 998,900 workstations shipped worldwide, representing a healthy—but by no means, torrid—10.5% year-over-year gain.  

Responsible for 41.3% of units shipped in the fourth quarter, HP now holds unquestioned control over the workstation market, clearly separating itself from Dell at 33.4%. But the company suffered an uncharacteristic and self-imposed setback in the third quarter when then-CEO Leo Apotheker put into doubt the future of HP workstations by essentially putting its parent business unit, the Personal Systems Group, on the trading block. And that raised the question as to whether management’s questionable move might be reflected in a market-share dip, even a very temporary one.

That does appear to be the case, as HP’s share bucked previous trends and slipped in the fourth quarter. Still, the firm doesn’t think HP has done any long-term damage with its about-face. Considering the company’s continuing aggressive posture in the marketplace—witness the impressive new Z1 all-in-one workstation—Herrera believes HP’s decline will be limited to a short-term bump in the road.

With a few solid, if not spectacular, recent GPU generations under its belt, AMD had been able to steal several share points from market leader Nvidia. While the magnitude of AMD’s gain, and corresponding Nvidia decline, was by no means game changing, it was statistically significant. The company’s FirePro brand had been taking its market share steadily upward, topping out at 19.5% in the third quarter of 2011. However, it appears the limited momentum AMD’s been able to muster ran out of steam in Q4. Not only did AMD’s FirePro brand not gain on Nvidia’s Quadro, it took a small step backward, coming in at 18.4%

Intuos5 Pen Tablet

Wacom’s Intuos5, its next-generation lineup of tablets for professionals, sports a number of new features, including multi-touch gesture support for intuitive input, an Express View display to facilitate an efficient workflow, and wireless capabilities. With its ergonomic, ambidextrous design and bold, new look, the slim-profile Intuos5 comes in three different sizes for the Americas (small, medium, and large)—priced at under $230, $350, and $470, respectively—to accommodate creative preferences.
 
The addition of multi-touch provides a complementary input method to the pen that is more natural to use in the creative process. One of the benefits of multi-touch is its support of gestures (standard Windows, Mac, or customized) to zoom, scroll, pan, and rotate digital content, all while remaining focused on the creative process.

The Foundry Gives Industry Its Hiero

The Foundry has launched Hiero, a lightweight shot manager for VFX for conforming, reviewing, and exporting shots to visual effects artists and into finishing systems. (Hiero 1.0 is not a compositor or a system for finishing, grading, or editing.) The offering works seamlessly with The Foundry’s Nuke and NukeX, but also enables collaborative working with other editorial, VFX, and finishing tools. Hiero removes human error by automatically creating a file structure based on rules that can be created by users as they conform and parcel out VFX shots to multiple Nuke artists.

Autodesk Unveils 2013 Software, Suites

Autodesk has announced the 2013 versions of its Digital Entertainment Creation (DEC) software and suites, as well as its 3D design and engineering software portfolio.

The  new DEC releases improve consistency and interoperability between applications, making it even easier for artists to take advantage of powerful, new, and enhanced creative features. New is the Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate edition, which includes 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, Mudbox, and MotionBuilder 2013—all of which are sold individually, as well. The Entertainment Creation Suites now ship with SketchBook Designer 2013 concept art software. The company also announced the 2013 versions of its Flame Premium software.



Meanwhile, on the engineering/manufacturing side, Autodesk’s 2013 design suites include the Product Design Suite and Factory Design Suite. They integrate with Autodesk 360 cloud offerings and with the new 2013 version of Autodesk Vault product data management software and the company’s next-generation, cloud-based alternative, Autodesk PLM 360. Autodesk Vault software enables workgroups to organize, manage, and track their engineering CAD data, manufacturing bills of material and change processes from a centralized location. The 2013 Autodesk Product Design and Factory Design suites are available in three editions: Standard, Premium, and Ultimate, and include updates of numerous products.

Pixologic Paints New Picture with ZBrush 4R3

Pixologic has released ZBrush 4R3, which includes significant advancements to the FiberMesh settings. Curve modifiers have now been added to a number of FiberMesh settings: Length, Coverage, Gravity, and Color Profile. Revolve has also been added as a new setting. Textures applied to FiberMesh and MicroMesh objects can now be transparent, allowing greater diversity in their use. ZBrush 4R3 exports both 16- and 32-bit vector displacement maps, making it easy to export sculpted details to other programs for rendering. Artists can also now convert MicroMesh and FiberMesh renders into actual geometry with a single click.

Side Effects Uncovers Houdini 12

Side Effects Software has added new features and performance enhancements to its latest Houdini release, Version 12. Built on a new geometry engine, Houdini 12 includes targeted optimizations to dynamics and rendering, and a reworked OpenGL 3 viewport. It also contains Bullet-solver integration, Pyro FX 2, faster, more accurate FLIP fluids, production-ready cloth, an Alembic exporter, and more. Houdini’s Mantra renderer now brings physically based rendering to volumes, such as smoke and fire. Mantra also includes a 300x speed improvement when instancing to points. Houdini Escape is available for $1,995, and Houdini Master sells for $6,695.

Out of the Boxx: the 8920

Boxx Technologies has unveiled the 3DBoxx 8920 workstation, featuring up to 16 cores (32 threads) of high-powered, multi-tasking performance. Designed to accommodate multi-threading, multiple applications, and complex production pipelines, the 8920 also has expanded to include additional memory and up to three Nvidia GPUs for faster performance for both CPU- and GPU-based rendering, simulation, and raytracing tasks.

iPi Soft Reveals iPi Motion Capture 2.0

Pi Motion Capture Version 2.0, the next generation of iPi Soft’s scalable line of markerless motion-capture technology, features improved accuracy and workflow enhancements, and offers increased support for female characters, as well as an array of motion sensor devices, including Kinect for Windows. The technology comes in three editions—Express, Basic, and Standard, which differ by the set of available features and complexity of motions that can be tracked.

A Look at Q4 Graphics Shipments

Jon Peddie Research (JPR) has examined the graphics chip shipments and suppliers’ market share for Q4 2011 and found that shipments during the period behaved according to past years with regard to seasonality—the new seasonality that has developed since the economic crash of 2008. Prior to that shift, Q4 was a seasonally up quarter; since 2008, it’s been a seasonally low to down quarter—and this year it was down the most since 2008. A lot of this was blamed on the floods in Thailand, but general economic malaise still permeates the industry.

JPR’s forecast for the coming years has been modified since the last report, and now is less aggressive on both desktops and notebooks, as tablets have changed the nature of the PC market. The findings include desktops, notebooks (and netbooks), and PC-based commercial (POS), industrial/scientific, and embedded; they do not include handhelds (mobile phones), x86 servers, or ARM-based tablets (iPad and Android-based tablets), smartbooks, or ARM-based servers.

In Q4, Intel celebrated its eighth quarter of shipping its Embedded Processor Graphics CPU-EPG, a multi-function design that combines a graphics processor and CPU in the same package. Intel’s desktop EPG shipments had a very strong double-digit growth, while notebooks dropped double digits. Combined with a decrease in overall IGP chipsets, Intel came in for the quarter with a -12.3% drop from Q3.
AMD had huge 44.8% desktop double-digit growth in its HPU shipments, and even good growth in its desktop IGPs. However, like Intel, its overall quarter results were down due to declining notebook sales. AMD’s overall quarter-to-quarter results showed a -3.4% drop.

Year to year this quarter, Intel gained about 7% market share, AMD gained 2.6%, and Nvidia slipped -7% in the overall market partially due to the company withdrawing from the integrated segments.
The quarter’s change in total graphics chip shipments from last quarter decreased 10.4%, above the 10-year average of 0.83%. A little over 124 million graphics chips shipped, down from 138.5 million units last quarter, and up from 114 million units this quarter a year ago.
Discrete GPUs declined almost 12% from the last quarter and were down almost 3.5% from last year for the same quarter.

Almost 93.5 million PCs shipped worldwide this quarter, an increase of 1.8% compared to last quarter (based on an average of reports from Dataquest, IDC, and HSI).
Graphics chips (GPUs) and chips with graphics (IGPs, HPUs, and EPGs) are a leading indicator for the PC market. At least one, and often two, GPUs are present in every PC shipped. It can take the form of a discrete chip, a GPU integrated in the chipset or embedded in the CPU. The average has grown from 115% in 2001 to almost 150% GPUs per PC.
 
Since the crash of 2008, combined with the introduction and influence of ARM-based tablets, the PC market has deviated from historical trends. Until the segment for tablets is clearly defined, the fluctuations in the market data are likely to continue. The disruptions probably won’t settle down for a while as tablets find their place in the market and agreement can be reached as to whether to include them in the PC market analysis.

AMD’s overall graphics market share increased 1.8% from last quarter due mostly to HPU shipments.
Intel continues to be the overall market-share leader, elevated by Core i5 EPG CPUs, Sandy Bridge, and Pineview Atom sales for netbooks. AMD gained market share; quarter-to quarter Intel and Nvidia lost share.

Nvidia is exiting the integrated graphics segments and shifting focus to discrete GPUs. The company showed good desktop discrete market-share gain (3.7% quarter to quarter), and 0.1% in notebooks. Nvidia credits strong connect with new Intel Sandy Bridge notebooks. Ironically, Nvidia enjoyed some serendipitous sales of IGPs in Q4 due to some older AMD CPU sales in Asia.

Year to year for the quarter, the market increased. Shipments increased to 124 million units, up 10.6 million units from this quarter last year.

The Q4’11 edition of Jon Peddie Research’s Market Watch is available now in electronic and hard copy editions, and can be purchased for $1,995.

Machine Shop

Mothership Director David Rosenbaum teamed with OgilvyWest to tell a simple story about a complex concept in an all-CG commercial “Robotarm” for Cisco. The commercial depicts a cheerfully aware and somewhat cheeky group of self-sustaining automotive assembly robots as a metaphor for Cisco Intelligent Networks that can fix and diagnose themselves.

The resulting spot delivers film-caliber computer animation created by Academy Award-winning visual effects studio Digital Domain that is entirely photo-real. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to use a factory metaphor to tell the story of complex computer systems that can diagnose and fix themselves,” says Rosenbaum. “Together with the OgilvyWest team, we took that idea to a new place—doing away with the idea of a traditional assembly line, creating robots with distinct personalities, and bringing them closer together so they could interact. In the end, I think we were able to humanize the technology and make it more understandable.”

Nine unique robots star in the spot, each designed to emulate the look of classic factory machinery enhanced with distinct characteristics. Appropriately synchronized to Gary Numan’s “Cars,” the robots drill, rivet, screw, weld, and hand body parts off to one another. Though everything was created in CG, Rosenbaum and OgilvyWest co-Chief Creative Officers James Dawson-Hollis and Bill Wright approached the spot as if it were a live-action shoot. Instead of filming with cameras on set, they worked alongside Digital Domain’s previs team to frame up shots and work out compositions with rough animations, which were then edited and handed over to VFX Supervisor Aladino Debert, who is also a Mothership director, and CG Supervisor Lee Carlton.



After evaluating an extensive amount of reference photography from real car plants, Rosenbaum did away with the idea of a traditional assembly line in order to accommodate the narrative requirements of the spot, and developed a circular track for placement of the robots. This helped bring the robots closer together to interact according to the spot concept, and also allowed more flexibility in choreographing the robots’ movements. With each robot on a circular track, they could hand off parts from one to another and interact more freely without being placed as far apart from one another.

Relaying the sophistication of Cisco technology in a 30-second commercial was quite a challenge, especially given the brisk four-week timeline. Digital Domain’s extensive experience doing car work on both commercials and features meant the studio already had a standard rendering pipeline in place, enabling the group to complete the render-intensive work on time.

“The nature of the schedule forced us to work in an unorthodox way on this project,” says Debert. “We knew we had to write special tools and, given the timeline, couldn’t wait until animation to begin experimenting. Doing look development and modeling while simultaneously animating, lighting, and compositing relied heavily on the technical and artistic prowess of our seasoned team and ability to turn around photoreal rendering very quickly.”

The team had to devise special tools to further accelerate the process since the timeline would not allow anything to be left to chance. Historically, Digital Domain creates sparks and smoke using 2D elements whenever possible because the studio maintains a vast library of reference material. However, in the case of this very character-driven spot, the welding sparks, and rivets had to be in 3D, so the team wrote an effects rig to drive the robots’ tasks with a variety of looks, leaving behind shavings, sparks, and various types of molten metal. The tool could be dropped into shots interactively, set to whatever variation of effect was required based on a given robot’s function on the assembly path. All the effects were pre-animated so the artists could modify the strength of an effect, but the performance was fast because they didn’t have to render a new simulation from scratch.

Creating the environment and characters tasked the entire Digital Domain Commercials renderfarm on the project—more than 1,000 processors in total. The complete tool kit Digital Domain used included Chaos Group’s V-Ray for modeling, animation, and rendering. The team also used Luxology’s Modo for 3D texture painting, as well as Adobe’s Photoshop and After Effects. Compositing was done in The Foundry’s Nuke, and final color correction and conform were done with Autodesk’s Flame.

Eyeon’s Next Dimension

Eyeon Software is now offering the shipping release of Dimension, priced at $995. Dimension’s stereoscopic technology is, at its core, an advanced optical-flow-based science that offers two series of tools: the disparity tool set and the optical-flow tool set. For ultimate controls over stereo sequences, Dimension can precisely construct disparity mapping for accurate per-pixel manipulation of the left and right eyes in true 3D space.



Image sequences also can be processed to achieve numerous results far beyond stereoscopic requirements. Dimension is designed to solve a number of common problems in stereoscopic film and broadcast production that would normally require a large amount of manual rotoscoping and paint work to solve.

Unity Technologies Begins Open Beta for Unity 3.5

Unity Technologies, provider of the Unity development platform for game, app, simulation, and interactive 3D for the Web, iOS, Android, consoles, and beyond, has begun the Unity 3.5 open beta, including a developer preview for the anticipated Adobe Flash Player deployment add-on for pushing interactive 3D content to the Web.

With Version 3.5, artists and programmers have complete control over how particles look and behave with Shuriken, a new curve- and gradient-driven particle system. The release also contains built-in
pathfinding, a new occlusion-culling system, a linear space lighting and HDR rendering capability, and support for NaCl publishing so that the Unity Web Player plays automatically in Google Chrome without requiring an install.

Khronos Releases OpenCL 1.2 Specification

The Khronos Group has released the OpenCL 1.2 specification, the latest update to the open, royalty-free standard for cross-platform, parallel programming of modern processors. Released 18 months after OpenCL 1.1, this new version provides enhanced performance and functionality for parallel programming in a backward-compatible specification that is the result of cooperation by more than 30 industry-leading companies.

OpenCL 1.2 enables significantly enhanced parallel programming flexibility, functionality, and performance through updates and additions, including: device partitioning, separate compilation and linking of objects, and enhanced image support, DX9 media surface sharing, DX11 surface sharing, and more. A detailed list can be found at www.khronos.org/opencl/.

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