Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 1 (January 2000)

Computer Graphics World's 1999 Innovation Awards

But this year's decision-making process was rendered especially difficult by the emergence of two remarkable new categories of computer graphics products-Web-based graphics programs and CAD/CAM/CAE viewing and collaboration tools. While both types of programs offer innovation in their own right, we felt their focus was more to enable the dissemination of computer-generated images than to advance the technology of graphics creation. Because both categories represent areas that are growing rapidly and are of vital interest to our readers, however, we will continue to track their developments.

In the meantime, to each of this year's winners, we extend our congratulations and our hope that the spirit of innovation shown here continues to flourish in the new millennium. -the editors

This year, Computer Graphics World is awarding a special grand prize to FreeForm, a product that truly displays the spirit of CG innovation by bringing us closer to the sought-after goal of digital clay. SensAble Technologies, the company that brought the sense of touch to 3D design and simulation applications via its Phantom force-feedback interface, this year introduced a modeling system that lets users not only reach out and touch their digital models, but also manipulate them using such familiar metaphors as sculpting and wire-cutting. FreeForm integrates a new digital-modeling metaphor with the Phantom's patented 3D Touch capability to let users create and explore form intuitively in 3D. Using digital clay or blue foam, sculptors can create forms that are difficult to represent using traditional math-based modeling techniques and a 2D mouse. The product's clay-modeling paradigm is enhanced with such features as the ability to copy, mirror, scale, and undo components during model development. The price is $15,000. (SensAble Technologies; Cambridge, MA;

Parametric Technology Corp.'s 2000i release of Pro/Engineer introduced users to the concept of behavioral modeling, which automatically creates and optimizes a design according to engineering requirements specified by a designer. These requirements could include weight, material volume, and pipe length, and also refinements such as "minimize weight," and "maintain a 20mm minimum bend radius." In essence, all an engineer has to put into the system are the parameters of the problem to be solved. Pro/E 2000i takes over from there, creating a model from those parameters without any need for sketches, drafts, or modeling on the part of the designer. Pro/Engineer 2000i costs $4995. (PTC; Waltham, MA;

Real-time volume rendering came to the desktop this past year with the VolumePro 500, a PCI graphics card from Real Time Visualization (RT Viz), a division of Mitsubishi Electronics America. The card, available on an OEM basis to vendors of Windows NT, Solaris, or Irix workstations, employs a raycasting algorithm that shoots rays through a volume object from each pixel in an image. It tri-linearly interpolates samples along each ray, providing complex shading calculations and color assignments at the sample points. What this means is far greater opportunity for volume-rendering applications development in the areas of medicine, seismic and mineralogic studies, aerodynamics and flow visualization, and industrial applications such as luggage inspection. Pricing for the VolumePro depends on configuration and quantity. (RT Viz; Concord, MA;

The most impressive new feature in Alias| Wavefront's recent release of Maya 2.5 is the program's Paint Effects technology, which allows for the instant creation of organic shapes and movements in 3D space. The range of effects includes complete environments with trees, grass, and flowers; characters with hair, eyebrows, and beards; and special effects such as lightning, clouds, rain, fire, fireworks, sparks, and some surprising additions such as pasta and meat. Because it can be used to create time-intensive organic forms and backgrounds, Paint Effects will help digital content creators save time and money. And, it's fun. (Alias|Wavefront; Toronto;

This past year saw the advent of a new breed of computer graphics products-software that creates NURBS models from polygonal versions. Some of these programs, such as CySlice 2.0 from Cyberware scanning bureau headus, and EM 3.0 from digitizer manufacturer InSpeck, were originally developed in-house as tools to expedite the conversion of scans to NURBS models. But in 1999 two new, standalone polygons-to-NURBS products emerged: Geomagic Shape from Raindrop Geomagic and Paraform. Shape's strength is in its automatic conversion, making possible the large-scale conversion of a library of polygonal images, for example. Paraform, while not automatic, allows users a greater degree of control and flexibility during the conversion process. Whatever their particular strengths, each of the four products cited here offers a quick and powerful way to produce NURBS models. The price for CySlice is $4000. EM 3.0 costs $6000, and Paraform is $15,000. Shape is sold as part of Geomagic Studio, a $19,995 suite that includes a scan data-to-polygons utility. (headus; Perth, Australia;; InSpeck; Quebec City, Canada;; Paraform; Santa Clara, CA;;
Raindrop Geomagic; Research Triangle Park, NC;;)

NewTek threw everything except the proverbial kitchen sink into LightWave 6's new rendering engine and became the first company to offer, within one interoperable, distributive ray-tracing environment, radiosity, caustics, and volumetric solid effects. The radiosity and caustics parts of the renderer have been written with animation in mind. The volumetric renderer uses 96-bit floating-point calculations with sub-pixel displacement to create surfaces such as smoke, fire, liquids, and clouds. In addition, LightWave offers sub-division surface modeling with point weights, the control of UV mapping with infinite layering, animatable surface attributes, gradient ramps that can use parameters such as bump height or incidence angle to change surface attributes, and new modeling tools for modifying characters and creating facial expressions. The price is $2495. (NewTek; San Antonio, TX;

Digital 2D imagery can spring to 3D life with Canoma from MetaCreations. Working with sources such as photographs or scanned-in paintings (one image can be used, but multiple images create a better end result), users can make a 3D image by building a wireframe over it. Canoma then automatically generates the required geometry and photorealistic textures, creating a 3D image that can be rotated, walked through, and animated. The conversion process works better with geometric shapes, such as buildings and interiors, than with organic ones. Canoma costs $499. (MetaCreations; Santa Clara, CA;

Nichimen packed several innovative ideas into its 3D animation software, Mirai, including a channel-based nonlinear motion-editing system, 3D paint, and an intriguing skeletal system that does simultaneous inverse and forward kinematics. Of special note is Mirai's quarternian inverse-kinematics system. Using it, animators can do such things as pin the toes of a character to a ground plane; then, by grabbing its head, move the character's skeleton all the way through the root; or, by leaving one toe pinned to the ground, move the other toe forward to start a walk cycle. Further, because Mirai separates motion and time, poses can be saved as states, multiple poses can be saved on one skeleton, skeleton topology can be changed without invalidating poses, and pose information remains with parts that are removed from the skeleton. The price is $6495. (Nichimen Graphics; Los Angeles;

Most 3D animation software now offers a procedural language, and procedures that deform models and integrate those deformations within animations are taken for granted. Similarly, it's become routine for procedural shaders in rendering programs to take the results of modeling and animation and to further affect the geometry and animation as scenes are rendered for final output. Now, with Houdini 4.0, Side Effects has given these worlds two-way communication. With Houdini's vector expressions (VEX), procedures written in this one compiled language can affect the entire pipeline-modeling, animation, rendering, and compositing. Thus, using VEX, a displacement shader can be seen in a modeling operation such as a rigid-body collision that can be controlled by artists using sliders, and each change made by the artist will reference the parameters of all the other operations dynamically. The price is $17,000. (Side Effects Software; Toronto;

Not only does PeopleShop from human-simulation company Boston Dynamics let you simulate a crowd, it simulates a smart crowd-one with intelligent characters that know how to move around structures in their path and how to make natural transitions between activities. Each digital person in the PeopleShop library has its own skeleton, texture-mapped geometry, and behavioral attributes. The "look" of a given crowd can be controlled and modified in real time from within a scene. PeopleShop has the advantage of Boston Dynamics' long history in the area of real-time character development and biomechanical simulations, giving the product an edge when it comes to creating a physically believable crowd. The price is $13,500. (Boston Dynamics; Cambridge, MA;

Blurring the line between 2D painting and 3D sculpting this year were two new products,

There's no doubt that with its $150 program, Amorphium, Play has opened up 3D modeling and keyframe animation to a whole new class of users. But the real innovation behind the sculpting and painting tool is its interface, which, dispensing with wireframes, enables users to sculpt 3D models using 2D paint tools such as brushes to "push" and "pull" primitives into the desired shapes. The product also offers metaball modeling, a morphing engine, and paint. Although clearly aimed at the consumer market (and available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms), Amorphium's power could make it a useful weapon in a professional designer's arsenal. The price is $149.95. (Play; Rancho Cordova, CA;

The painting program ZBrush from Pixologic has been designed to close the gap between 2D and 3D sculpting and painting, with an emphasis on ease of use. Artists employ tools and palettes in a manner analogous to 2D painting applications, but ZBrush's proprietary technology embeds depth and material information in each pixel of an image, giving users the ability to create 3D content without calculations, wireframes, or NURBS. Using a brush or other sculpting tool (in a manner similar to Amorphium's modeling technique) users can create and distort objects with intuitive pushing and pulling motions. Then users can paint textures, depth, and other attributes directly onto the objects. The price is $300. (Pixologic; Los Angeles;

Credo Interactive's Life Forms Studio 3.5 is a remarkably versatile standalone tool for creating and editing character motion that works with all the top 3D animation packages, such as 3D Studio Max, LightWave, and TrueSpace, on either a Macintosh or Windows platform. With interactive rendering and inverse kinematics, Life Forms facilitates the production of 3D movement. Life Forms also enables animators to reuse motion and apply it to a new or default model that ships with the program, making it especially useful for 3D animation, movement planning, game development, and multimedia content creation. The price is $495. (Credo Interactive; Vancouver, British Columbia;

Intel's Pentium III processor, which was developed to enhance Internet computing, is also the first consumer-level chip designed to maximize 3D graphics. The processor's Advanced Transfer Cache, Advanced System Buffering, and Internet Streaming SIMD Extensions are also designed to improve the performance of data visualization, streaming audio, video, and speech-recognition applications. With the Pentium III, Intel has brought 3D capability to many more users, and in so doing, has opened up new opportunities for software development on and off the Web. (Intel; Santa Clara, CA;

Two paint programs, one a veteran, the other a newcomer, introduced paint of notable depth this year.

The latest version of MetaCreations' venerable paint program takes brush technology and depth control to the next level. New impasto brushes allow users to build up layers of paint, and also to cut through the layers, all the way to the digital canvas if desired. Users can now apply multiple colors to a brush, with a different pigment on each bristle. And a new palette knife interacts with individual brush strokes. The program's Interactive Image Hose sprays rotated and scaled images onto an image, based on the bearing, tilt, and pressure of the user's hand. Painter 6 costs $399. (MetaCreations; Santa Clara, CA;

Right Hemisphere's Deep Paint provides users with a unique degree of control over the depth, shininess, and texture of paint in a variety of media including oils, acrylics, watercolors, and chalks. To some degree, Deep Paint looks and acts like real paint. Blobs of color applied to the digital canvas spread, run, and mix with one another. The software features more than 20 canvas types, which affect the look of the paint as it is applied and the way it spreads. Users can select from more than 100 procedural image types to create textures for 3D models, digital photographs, and other works of art. Deep Paint costs $249. (Right Hemisphere; Auckland, New Zealand, and Bellingham, WA;

The latest version of Visionary Design Systems' IronCAD solid-modeling package brings users closer to achieving the elusive goal of CAD system interoperability. IronCAD 3.0 is built around the manufacturer's Unified Modeling Engine, which simultaneously incorporates the ACIS and Parasolid solid-modeling kernels to facilitate the import and export of most native CAD/CAM/CAE files. Such a capability resolves the data-translation problems often encountered using standard translation file formats. And, with the multi-kernel technology, any part in an assembly can be set to use either the ACIS or Parasolid kernel. Parts can be changed to use the alternate kernel at any time. If one kernel fails during a modeling operation, the software switches to the other kernel. IronCAD is priced at $4995. (Visionary Design Systems; Santa Clara, CA;

Atomic Power made a big splash with Psunami, a physics-based water simulation plug-in for Adobe After Effects that integrates 3D water content within a 2D application. Psunami generates precise 3D water geometry, with a realistic ray-traced output. The plug-in's 3D camera can be set to fly under or over the water, or it can be attached to the water's surface for bobbing animations. Psunami's displacement mapping feature enables users to create customized behaviors, such as whirlpools or ripples, while its reflection-mapping capability allows users to float debris and even logos in the water. The price is $599. (Atomic Power; Encinitas, CA;

Ansys' engineering simulation suite is well-known for its array of beefy analysis tools. The latest version, Ansys 5.6, features new capabilities in nonlinear structural mechanics and coupled-field multiphysics. Coupled-field applications involve the simulation of more than one phenomenon at a time, and are becoming increasingly important in today's ever-shrinking time-to-market environment. The basic Ansys 5.6 package consists of three modules: Ansys/Multiphysics, Ansys/Mechanical, and Ansys Structural.

Additional modules are available as standalones or add-ons. The price for Ansys 5.6 varies according to configuration. (Ansys; Canonsburg, PA;

InterSense's new motion-tracking product family uses a combination of inertial and ultrasonic tracking technologies to greatly reduce the jitter and lag common to most of these systems, thereby cutting down on the queasiness some individuals experience when using them. Another innovation is the virtually unlimited tracking range enabled by the use of sensor strips mounted in a ceiling. Movements of the hand and head gear worn by a user are tracked by the strips, so that the user can theoretically range anywhere the strips have been placed. The IS-900 product family consists of a 3D volume tracker for immersive displays, a virtual workbench tracker, a large-area tracker, and a camera tracker. Prices for the components range from $18,000 to $30,000. (InterSense; Burlington, MA;