Project:messiah 1.5 is about to expand into messiah:studio, a new modular and innovative approach to animation. Mike Amron investigates. Includes QuickTime movie clips!
Recently I met with Fori Owurowa, Dan Milling and Lyle Milton, the principal programming architects of pmG (project:messiah Group), the newcomer in the field of 3D animation programs, to discuss their upcoming release of messiah:studio and other matters of a graphic nature.
Just going into beta, the new 3D animation and rendering stand-alone version of pmG's award-winning messiah software, messiah:studio, is a suite composed of messiah:animate and messiah:render. Or maybe I should say "stand-with-others version," since the package can work alone or concurrently with other packages. Let me explain: messiah:animate will be able to work directly with a package like Maya. For instance, one will be able to update animation in the Maya interface, as the animation is created in messiah:animate. With both packages open at the same time, the user will be able to change parameters in both messiah and Maya utilizing the strengths of both packages at the same time. A novel and modular approach.
Having an open system to interface with other software seems to have many advantages and few disadvantages. Open code within packages creates many more possibilities than packages that stand-alone. Using the best renderer with the best modeler on one project is common. To use both within a single software system would be both practical and desirable. Let's just say it's easier than sowing the packages with custom-written software.
A Whole New Package
The first version of project:messiah is a plug-in for Lightwave. Released last year, project:messiah 1.5, and its subsequent upgrades, have been embraced by many production houses and studios already. The main focus of the first version, and now messiah:studio, is animation capability and speed.
messiah:studio will consist of two modules -- messiah:animate and messiah:render. Among the features of messiah:animate are simplified character animation, soft-body dynamics to create soft objects, cloth simulation, object collision and mathematical expressions. Many of these features are in other 3D animation programs, at a much higher price. messiah is aimed at the professional animator, but at an affordable cost. Alias|Wavefront, 3D Studio Max, Lightwave and other 3D model formats can be imported into messiah:animate to create animation. MetaNURBS® are also supported.
messiah:render, the renderer, will initially be familiar to the messiah user, with features in the renderer utilizing the same methodology as messiah:animate. messiah:animate will have parameters as a control to the renderer; the ability to access all of the parameters, have control through expressions, be able to access the features deep in the render core, and use expressions to control the rendering parameters, all will add to the power of messiah. The ability to use the renderer with other packages will allow the parameters in the outside package to talk to the host application, messiah:render. The outside package's operations, such as shader colors and specularity, will be used by messiah:render. messiah:studio also exports Renderman rib files if the user would like to render the files in RenderMan. Optimized in the program, the speed of messiah:render promises to be quite fast. project:messiah has been developed to provide continuity within its diverse parts. The same methodology used to change expressions can be utilized to change surface parameters. An interesting concept. The interface will not divert the animator from their animation tasks within messiah, yet will enhance the functionality of outside packages. Plug-in capability to Maya, XSI and 3D Studio Max will be available as well.
This facial animation video shows what can be achieved with bones, instead of morphs. While there are some morphs, just to add to the wrinkles as the character smiles, the lips and facial expressions are done with bones, using MotionBlender. This second clip shows the bone setup that was used for the facial animation video.
Most animation companies have many different software packages. With the release of messiah:studio, the animator not only gets an animation program that's affordable, but compatible with the other 3D packages that are available. That's an unusual concept, one that fosters a much different outlook on creating animation within an open system.
Added Control and Ease
The look of messiah:studio should appear similar to current users of messiah. Many of messiah:studio's parameters, windows and menus are adjustable and configurable. Windows can be resized, while menus can be resized and even hidden. Control of the interface will enhance the utility of the software on your desktop or laptop. All of the features for messiah were developed with the user in mind, with much of the next version's features implemented because of feedback from current users. OS X Mac capability will be available with the new release too. Linux is also a future possibility.
messiah has motion-capture capabilities that allow loading of the most common capture files. Just one key can automatically create a skeleton from motion-capture data. The bones of the skeleton can then be adjusted to better fit the model.
pmG has found that using the Web affords great access to its user base. Using the Web to distribute the initial release of the software worked out very well and will continue. It's a unique idea, and has brought tighter communication between the messiah developers and users. An animator can log on to the messiah e-group, post a question and get feedback very quickly, either from the developers themselves or other experienced users. Also, CD based documentation turned out to be more efficient and practical for updates and will continue. Voluminous collections of manuals will not be a part of future releases of messiah. A single CD holds the present version of messiah, and hopefully future releases and documentation will continue to be able to fit on a single CD as well.
The MotionBlender panel where you can select which effect you want to apply and showing a description of how each effect works. The SaveMorph panel where you set up to save out object sequences of animation. A panel showing the camera reticle settings. Another panel showing some of the motion editing capabilities.
To learn more and get involved in project:messiah's community, simply visit their Website and await the arrival of their new product line starting in the second quarter of 2001.
Mike Amron is a computer graphics instructor at DHIMA. He has worked for a number of leading visual effects companies, including Digital Domain, VIFX and Industrial Light & Magic.