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Simulation Animation: The Tools

We asked three companies, Magic Lantern Limited, Transom Technologies and Liquid Light Studios, to describe how they are utilizing animation in unexpected places and for unexpected purposes.

We asked three companies, Magic Lantern Limited, Transom Technologies and Liquid Light Studios, to describe how they are utilizing animation in unexpected places and for unexpected purposes. (Read on and you'll find out how animation is saving a camel's life!) We also asked them to tell us the skills, training and background that someone would need to have in order to perform the type of work that they are doing.

It is interesting to note that they are utilizing the same hardware that the major entertainment studios are using for effects work.

Bill Johnson, Founder, Head Cook and Bottle Washer, Magic Lantern Limited

Magic Lantern, which is celebrating 25 years in business, has negotiated a tortuous route to becoming one of the U.K.'s most prolific animators in the Property Development sector. We started in the `70s as multivision producers, working all over the world promoting global companies with shows presented on computer controlled slide projectors. Later, we moved on to creating 2-D images using computers. Today our task is to show prospective investors, owner occupiers or tenants what large buildings will look like before they are built. We make 3-D computer graphic animations into short promotional videos with live-action material, commentary, music and sound effects.

The projects can vary from shopping malls, headquarter buildings, offices, apartment blocks and so on. We normally get involved sometimes years before the structure is finally in place. The object being that if you can simulate reality and get customers to empathize with it, since not many can read architects' plans, then there is a greater chance of selling the design - and finding any design flaws before solid concrete prevents you from doing anything about it.

There is also the little side issue of the developer's cash flow. A building or civil engineering scheme sold before a brick or any concrete is laid is like, "A bird in the hand being better than two in the bush." Meaning the client's happy and knows what he is getting, therefore, the developer picks up a lot more profit. In Britain it was traditional to "spec build," then market the building and hopefully sell it. Some completed blocks hung on for years without a buyer and drove interest charges through the roof. Today, the only "speculation" is making a computer model and animating it into a short video movie.

We also undertake similar assignments for civil engineering companies on vast infrastructure projects. Here the client is usually a government department and your company is in the ring with several other contractors, all wanting to win the project. Again state-of-the-art presentation is the most powerful part of our selling story. A contractor who presents well is more likely to be perceived by the client as one who can operate more efficiently.

We recently undertook an assignment for the modernization of Qatar's Primary Routes, i.e. to design the motorway network in a Middle Eastern country. Strangely one of their most serious problems, aside from the appalling driving and horrendous fatality rate, is the number of camels that get killed because they stray onto the road at night. Incidentally, the camel, being fairly tall usually means it slides over the bonnet (hood), so the car and driver invariably get written-off as well! The attached Quicktime gives a view of the special tunnels they are building under the road to prevent this occurring.

I operate with 100% freelance colleagues who are located in different parts of the country. We all use e-mail extensively. Many are qualified architects with extensive CAD knowledge, but this is not essential. The main ingredient is a desire to maintain the integrity of the architect's design and ensure it is faithfully represented. We use PC based 3D Studio Max, 3D Studio, Vistapro and World Builder software extensively. We find them the most cost effective for this market. As far as the production of the movie is concerned, we render on ten 166 PC all with about 797 MB of ram and dump to videotape (MII). Live material is then cut in with the CG and the movie is put together like any other. One needs a reasonable journalistic background, and a knowledge of the "grammar of television."

Transom Jack software offers

Peter Tiernan, Director of Marketing Communications, Transom Technologies

Our software is called Transom Jack. It's a "human-centric" visual simulation solution that enables users to:

  • import CAD models or build virtual environments from scratch
  • insert biomechanically correct virtual humans and size them using reliable anthropometic data
  • assign Jack complex tasks, change people and objects parametrically, then rerun the same simulation
  • use Transom Jack to capture and mimic actual motion of live subjects
  • evaluate how Transom Jack performs through real-time simulations and ergonomic analyses

Transom Jack is the human simulation industry's highest-fidelity human model, with accurate joint limits, a fully defined spine, flexible anthropometric scaling and such advanced behaviors as visibility, directed locomotion, reaching, grasping, bending, lifting and posture control. Organizations such as Ford, Deere, Lockheed Martin, Toyota, NASA and the U.S. Army use Transom Jack to improve the ergonomics and human factors of product designs, manufacturing processes and maintenance procedures.

Basically, we use animation to give manufacturers a realistic impression of how humans will interact with their products, and how they'll perform manufacturing and maintenance tasks. The key to these human-centered animations is having a biomechanically accurate human that behaves in a virtual world just the way you would expect him or her to behave in the real world.

It's not as simple as animation for entertainment, where all that's required is for the characters to look believable. We also have to provide valid and meaningful information about how the human is responding to its environment. For instance, companies depend on our virtual humans to tell them whether their workers will be exposed to the risk of lower-back pain injuries, or whether drivers can comfortably reach all the controls in a vehicle, while still being able to see the road.

As for the requirements to use our software, most of our users are familiar with CAD/CAM or have a background in ergonomics. However, we're really finding that anyone who's interested in how humans interact with designs and in workplace environments are able to use our software with minimal training.

Julie Pesusich, Partner, Liquid Light Studios

Aside from creating animations for the broadcast industry, Liquid Light Studios is also utilizing animation for a variety of architectural projects. The architectural animations we create serve primarily as a pre-visualization of what will exist.

The first step of any architectural project is knowing what the client wants to create. Once we have a firm understanding of the project, we then collect the resource materials from the client. These materials usually consist of blueprints, (CAD files if available), and color/texture references.

Riddler's Revenge is a roller coaster developed by Liquid Light Studios for Six Flags Theme Parks. Image courtesy of Liquid Light.

Riddler's Revenge is a roller coaster developed by Liquid Light Studios for Six Flags Theme Parks. Image courtesy of Liquid Light.

The completed animation has a variety of uses. Aside from serving as a previsualization tool, animation is being used largely for marketing and promotional aspects. For example, Riddler's Revenge is a new themed roller coaster we developed for Six Flags Theme Parks. Animation was used to show the corporate headquarters what new attraction is coming to the Valencia, California park. In addition, our client aired a one-minute animated clip of the ride on various television news stations in order to publicly introduce this new ride and generate interest.

Regardless of the type of market that the animation is being created for, whether it is broadcast, film or architecture, the same skills and talents go into every project. An art background is a definite enhancement to becoming a good animator. It allows for one to develop an artistic eye that proves to be essential to the project. After all, the finished animation is really a piece of art, only it is created within the computer versus on a canvas. While having an art background is not a requirement to becoming a computer animator, it does broaden one's talents and capabilities.

The next essential ingredient in creating animations is learning the actual animation program. Auto CAD is a software package that is specifically for architecture and engineering, however, we use 3D Studio Max for all of our animations.

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