Issue: Volume 35 Issue 6: (Oct/Nov 2012)


Nvidia Reveals Next-Gen Maximus

Nvidia recently launched the second generation of its Maximus workstation platform, which now features the Kepler GPU architecture. Originally introduced last November, Maximus gives workstation users the ability to simultaneously perform complex analysis and visualization on a single machine. With this second generation of Maximus, compute work is assigned to run on the new Nvidia Tesla K20 GPU computing accelerator, freeing up the new Nvidia Quadro K5000 GPU to handle graphics functions. Maximus’ unified technology transparently and automatically assigns visualization and simulation or rendering work to the right processor.

The Quadro K5000 GPU’s features include: Bindless Textures that give users the ability to reference more than one million textures directly in memory while reducing CPU overhead; FXAA/TXAA film-style anti-aliasing technologies; increased frame- buffer capacity of 4gb, plus a next-generation PCIe-3 bus interconnect that accelerates data movement by 2x compared with PCIe-2; an all-new display engine capable of driving up to four displays simultaneously with a single K5000; and Display Port 1.2 support for resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 at 60hz.

Second-generation, Maximus-powered desktop workstations featuring the new Quadro K5000 ($2,249) plus the Tesla K20 GPU ($3,199) will be available starting in December. The Quadro K5000 will be available as a separate discrete desktop GPU starting now. HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, plus systems integrators such as Boxx Technologies and Supermicro, will all offer second-generation, Maximus-powered workstations.

The Pixel Farm

Harvests PFDepth The Pixel Farm is offering PFDepth, a new, fully integrated tool set for total scene reconstruction, 2D-to-3D conversion, and depth-map creation.

According to the company, PFDepth is a radical evolution of the intricate processes involved in accurately representing the perceived geometric shape and depth of objects, buildings, and terrain in 3D, making it easy to build complex geometry, detailed per-pixel depth maps, and stereoscopic renders of any 2D scene.

What makes PFDepth unique is its use of real-world camera models. Using The Pixel Farm’s 3D camera tracking technology as its foundation, accurate depth cues are assigned to each pixel in the image relative to the real-world camera’s position over time, while dynamic adjustments to convergence can be animated automatically. The result is scene reconstruction and stereoscopy that appears as true to life as the original environment in which it was shot.

A 64-bit application running natively on OS X, Windows, and Linux, PFDepth sells for $3300.

Luxology Ships Modo NPR Kit

Sometimes photoreal is too real. Artists need options, clients want choices, and ideas rarely fit under one umbrella. To this end, Luxology has introduced NPR Kit for Modo, a non-photorealistic rendering package that allows expressive, hand-drawn looks and animations to be achieved in 3D renderings. With this new all-in-one kit, Modo 601 users can access classic art styles when rendering anything from product visualizations to anime and fine art.

With material options for ’toon shading, stippling, halftones, and edge rendering, the NPR Kit lets users produce unique representations of architecture, products, and characters in Modo. And since the NPR Kit can mimic traditional styles such as blueprints, sketches, and chalk drawings, it is useful for technical illustration, where edges and other important features are emphasized at the expense of detailed visual accuracy, or on cartoon productions, where solid colors and strong lines are used to convey emotion.

The NPR Kit includes eight shaders as well as pre-built materials, still and animated backgrounds, sample NPR scenes, Sketchmaps, and tutorials. The NPR Kit is available now for use with Modo 601 on both Mac OS X and Windows operating systems for $199.

The Workstation Market Still Sluggish in Q2 2012

The results from the workstation market’s first quarter were disappointing, as it marked the first two consecutive quarters of negative growth since 2008. And if industry observers needed more evidence of the market’s listlessness, they need look no further than the second quarter’s numbers. Alex Herrera, senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research (JPR), reports that approximately 883,000 workstations shipped worldwide in the quarter, down 3.8% from the quarter prior and 2.6% from Q2 2011.

While the quarter proved disappointing, JPR does not detect any systemic weakness unique to the market. Rather, Herrera sees the market buffeted by the same winds that are affecting most other IT segments. “Like any other, this market will rise and fall with the tempo of the overarching economy,” he says.

With the economy stubborn to shake its lethargy, and with new IT form factors vying for users’ eyeballs, all PC-related industries are having trouble making headway as of late, according to Herrera. “And while we feel more bullish about the prospects of professional-caliber computing than most other related markets, the market for workstations certainly isn’t immune to the malaise affecting the broader PC industry,” he adds.

While the short term is uncertain, Herrera points out that good reasons for optimism remain in the long term. “Workstations look to continue to outpace other PC-class devices moving forward. This arena is attracting both new suppliers and new consumers. Most notably, more potential buyers—both in the form of lower-budget CAD users and Apple emigrants—should continue to increase the [total available market],” explains Herrera. “Moreover, technology innovation in the industry is moving at a brisk pace, increasing the platform’s ROI proposition and fueling replacement cycles.”

With the self-inflicted injury of a year ago behind it (when then-CEO Leo Apotheker put the fate of HP’s entire PC business unit in question), HP has steadied the workstation ship and begun to press on, despite less-than-stellar market conditions. Responsible for 41.3% of units shipped in the fourth quarter, HP holds unquestioned control over the workstation market, clearly separating itself from Dell at 32.5%.

The related market for professional graphics hardware did not fare any better than the market for workstations. All told, vendors Nvidia and AMD shipped 1.1 million units in the second quarter, 6.7% less than in Q1 and 12.5% less than the year prior. Nvidia continues to hold a dominant market position over its primary rival in this space. “JPR’s Workstation Report—Professional Computing Markets and Technologies” is a vital reference for hardware and software vendors serving the workstation and professional graphics markets.

Pixar Releases RenderMan Pro Server, Studio Updates

Pixar Animation Studios has extensively upgraded its rendering software by rolling out RenderMan Pro Server 17.0 and RenderMan Studio 4.0.

Pro Server 17.0 includes significant performance gains, including object instancing, photon-mapping enhancements, and volume-rendering optimizations developed to meet the escalating visual demands of the feature-film industry. RenderMan Studio 4.0, meanwhile, contains a new physically plausible shader library, allowing Maya users to intuitively focus on the creation of photorealistic imagery with an emphasis on artist-friendly workflows.

RenderMan Pro Server 17.0 is priced at $2,000 per license, with volume discounts available for renderfarm purchases. RenderMan Studio 4.0 costs $1,300 per license and is compatible with Maya 2013 for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. A student bundle of both products is available for $200.

Pixologic Broadens Its Stroke, Updates ZBrush

Pixologic has updated its ZBrush digital sculpting tool to Version 4 Release 4 (4R4) for both the Mac and Windows platforms. The free update for ZBrush users continues to expand on creative freedom with a focus on model topology and detail creation with new retopology tools, virtually unlimited undos, and the option to combine entire libraries of object meshes into one brush. Enhancements include features that assist in creating PolyGroups, like a zipper mechanism or a chain, which can be painted into existence in a single swipe—in full 3D. With the new Tri IMM, the curve brushes can be used to paint just about anything. The QRemesher Alpha can also automatically clean up a mesh topology with special auto masking.

Editor’s Note: This product is a late recipient of a CGW Silver Edge Award from SIGGRAPH 2012.

The Foundry/Luxology Merge

n unexpected news late last month, The Foundry and Luxology revealed that they have joined forces, and the combined portfolio of the now-merged companies is expected to offer a new avenue for CG production.

The Foundry brings to the table 2D and 3D VFX software, including the Nuke compositor. Luxology, meanwhile, offers unique 3D modeling and rendering software with its flagship Modo. Moreover, Luxology’s Modo has strong roots in a variety of markets, including VFX, design, and games. “The Foundry’s and Luxology’s products are highly complementary, and we both like our products to be open and flexible, letting the customers choose how they want to work,” says Bill Collis, CEO of The Foundry. 8See the News section on for a detailed report.

Autodesk Rolls Out Its New Gameware Navigation AI Middleware

Autodesk has unveiled the next-generation of its artificial intelligence (AI) middleware, Autodesk Gameware Navigation, the successor of its Kynapse AI middleware for creating believable character behaviors for video games. This technology has been re-engineered to offer developers full source-code access, a more accessible API, and remote visual debugging tools.

“All the tools in our Autodesk Gameware product line have been designed to streamline the game-making process and reduce the need for costly custom solutions to common production challenges. With Gameware Navigation, we have overhauled our existing AI technology to make the algorithms faster and more efficient, and the API more accessible and intuitive. The result is a tool that will be much faster and easier to use, so programmers can spend more time on high-impact areas of development, such as gameplay and design,” says Marc Petit, senior vice president of Media & Entertainment at Autodesk.

Gameware Navigation provides automatic NavMesh generation, path finding, and path following in complex game environments. Character and obstacle avoidance, dynamic NavMesh, and swappable sectors are supported out of the box. The middleware also offers developers extensible, remote visual debugging tools with record/playback capability, improving the speed and quality of AI iteration.

The middleware offering is expected to be publicly available this fall.

Animal Logic Acquiring Fuel VFX Assets

Animal Logic, the Australian-based animation and visual effects facility known for its work on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, 300, Happy Feet, and more, is finalizing a deal to buy the assets of Sydney-based Fuel VFX (The Avengers, Iron Man 2, Prometheus). This after the studio was placed into voluntary administration in early fall—a process whereby company directors request a third party to look at a restructure, a sale, or a liquidation of assets in order to avoid closure.

Fuel VFX will be renamed Animal Logic Fuel. The new facility will handle advertising and short-form visual effects projects. However, both will retain their own, separate VFX film divisions.

Fuel VFX was founded in 1990 by Jason Bath, Paul Butterworth, Andrew Hellen, Simon Maddison, and Dave Morley, all of whom will continue the roles with the new company. The facility, which has produced work on a number of tentpole films, will continue operating at its former location, which is only miles from the Animal Logic headquarters. Animal Logic also has an office in Santa Monica, California.

The cost of the acquisition was not released. Animal Logic opened in 1991. The facility began operating under the Animal Logic Fuel moniker on October 2. At the time of the voluntary administration, Fuel had approximately 80 employees; it reopened its doors with about 20 to 30, hoping to ramp back up in the next few weeks.

Fuel VFX is just one of several visual effects studios worldwide that has been hit hard by the global economic downturn. In August, postproduction firm Deluxe Australia, acquired Omnilab Media’s creative and media services businesses, including the VFX/postproduction companies Iloura, Digital Pictures, Cornerpost, Flagstaff, Boffswana, and PAX Entertainment. More recently, Digital Domain Media Group sold its production business after being forced into bankruptcy.