SIGGRAPH 2012: Virtual Production Heats Up
Autodesk wasted little time seizing the opportunity to tout its new streamlined virtual production workflow system that not only benefits James Cameron's upcoming Avatar sequels but everyone else as well. It's the democratization of virtual production, and that was the story of this year's SIGGRAPH, from The Foundry's evolving Mari and flourishing Nuke to Maxon's improved Cinema 4D to Side Effects' ubiquitous Houdini. Plus there was upstart NewTek with its new LightWave 3D Group under Rob Powers, which proposes an interactive all-in-one virtual production solution.
Of course, full on virtual production is practiced mostly by Cameron and Peter Jackson's Weta Digital. But many view this as a trickle down proposition. Eventually, the industry at large will be embracing this interactive, nonlinear process, which spans digital world building, character development and previs, to performance capture, virtual cinematography, VFX to final render.
As part of Autodesk's Entertainment Creation Suites 2013, the new virtual production enhancements will help studios of all sizes adopt this revolutionary process. The tools, found in MotionBuilder and Maya, will help improve performance, workflow and image fidelity.
MotionBuilder now loads, saves and merges files together much faster than before, and is more closely integrated to the editorial workflow. Motion capture and live input data can be recorded to disk in the software's non-linear editor so directors can record multiple takes in rapid sequence; actors can act out their scenes un-interrupted; and stage crew can work instantly with editorial to build and refine shots. The software also includes HD SDI video output support, which allows MotionBuilder to be integrated into studio video broadcast systems, designed to introduce zero frames of lag. This gives directors and camera operators more accurate real time feedback on their virtual camera work.
"The goal was to make a cleaner, neater, tighter, better solution for virtual production and overcame a lot of the problems they had on Avatar," explained Bruno Sargeant, Autodesk's virtual production senior product manager. "So after 18 months, the first batch of technology became available in the 2013 releases.
"You can drop and play that back and then go on to another recording session and lay down another track while previewing the prior one and keep going and keep going. We tested this up to 100 characters and still were able to play back 10 at a time on top of that. That ability in itself has changed how a stage session works. We're also recording to disk and so you're not limited to 30 seconds or whatever it was before. So now the system is no longer limiting what a director wants to record and capture. He can do what he wants and get the take that he wants. And that's huge. And that brought in new data sets and load time. So we worked on that so you can load large scenes and large digital sets and work with it immediately and also with more complex characters. And at the end of the session you've got 49 minutes. Before that, it would take about 30 seconds of every minute of recorded media to save that. Now it's instant."