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Digic & Black Hole Choose Maya & Alias MotionBuilder for RTS Game

Alias announced that Hungary-based computer animation studio Digic Pictures and computer and videogame developer Black Hole Ent., both subsidiaries of Cinergi Interactive Llc, chose Alias software solutions as their core tools to produce the realtime strategy computer game (RTS) ARMIES OF EXIGO. The title is a fantasy RTS game where the boundaries of the battlefield are broken and war is waged both above and below the ground.

The most outstanding feature of this game is the ability to wage war simultaneously on multiple levels, says Alex Rabb, evp of Cinergi Interactive. The player can send units below the surface into catacombs and caves and is simultaneously able to attack an enemy on the surface. This is a unique experience and has not been done before in the genre of real time strategy games. We believe this pushes the genre into a new and challenging experience.

Digic Pictures most notable work was its 60 visual effects shots for the blockbuster movie TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES. To date, its been rare for a company with a Hollywood VFX background to make the leap into a complete game production. Gaming reviewers note how the story came to life through some really stunning cut scenes. The intro movie of ARMIES OF EXIGO was selected for the SIGGRAPH 2003 Electronic Theater Program and was the first Hungarian computer animated project ever to make it into the SIGGRAPH festivals Electronic Theater compilation.

Digic Pictures goal is to produce projects that impress even the most prestigious professional forums bringing a good name to Digic and the developing professional Hungarian computer animation world, explains Gabor Marinov, VFX supervisor, Digic Pictures.

We used a custom crowd simulation tool developed for Maya to create the closing shot of the Beast movie and transferred the mocap data into Maya with the help of MotionBuilder, says Marinov. It played a very important role in the motion editing, as we had to refit the human actors' movements for non-humanoid characters with different proportions and body structure. For example, the Beast character in the Exigo movies had a 'chicken feet structure, but the advanced controls in MotionBuilder allowed us to easily map the mocap data on him. For the amazing photorealistic intro movie, Digic used RenderMan software for rendering, with RenderMan Artist Tools providing the connection to Maya software.

The most useful Maya features for this production proved to be the flexible node-based architecture, its customizable user interface Maya Embedded Language (MEL) and application programming interface API. Maya was chosen as our core package because of the great flexibility it offers. The characters in our cinematics are very complex. We developed a system in Maya that is able to mix motion capture with keyframe animation and display the results in real time, Marinov continues. Creating digital characters of such complexity involves a lot of complicated tasks. Maya's features, flexibility and open architecture provide sophisticated solutions for these problems.

New tools and techniques were constantly developed and refined all through the production process, and we were able to create a pipeline that perfectly matched our requirements, says Robert Kovacs, lead technical artist at Digic Pictures.

The cut scene portion of the project consists of five high quality rendered CGI movies that include intro, outro and three shorter films to explain the story at each major plot point in the game. The particular challenge though was to create feature film quality CGI movies. The movies contain several highly detailed characters, with gigabytes of textures. For example, the human hero character contains more than two gigabytes of textures in 96 texture files. The Beast hero character was built as a subdivision surface model with more than 230,000 polygons in the control cage.

Almost all the default animation tools in Maya were used by Digic while some tools were extended with special controls and user interface (e.g. facial animations). Rigs were setup which contained forward and inverse kinematics controls for the characters, blendshapes for facial animation with custom control system written in MEL and several built in and custom deformers to control the skinning. Digic Pictures also used the Maya TRAX editor to mix various motion capture elements along with hand-keyed animation. Custom tools were developed to manage animation transfer between various character rigs. Particle rigid body system from the effect tools palette were also used, as well as the dynamics system to create particle effects (fog, mist, smoke). The team used Maya Hair and converted with custom tools to RIB format to render with RenderMan software.

Budapest, Hungary based Digic Pictures makes computer animations and special effects and is a part of the Cinergi Interactive business group owned by the Hungarian born Hollywood producer, Andrew G. Vajna. Its goal is to produce projects that impress even the most prestigious professional forums bringing a good name to Digic Pictures and the world of the developing professional Hungarian computer animation. Its highest standards allowed Digic Pictures to be the first joining the blood circulation of Hollywood.

Black Hole Ent. is a pioneer developer of computer games. Based in Budapest, the studio is home to more than 50 developers: artists, designers and engineers. The company was founded in 2001 by Hollywood producer Andrew G. Vajna and seven game-enthusiasts. Black Hole is a subsidiary of Cinergi Interactive Llc.

As the world's leading innovator of 3D graphics technology, Alias develops award-winning software, custom development and training solutions for the film and video, games, web, interactive media, automotive, industrial design, education and visualization markets. Alias is headquartered in Toronto with a Custom Development Center in Santa Barbara and offices worldwide. Please visit the Alias website at or call 1-800-447-2542 in North America for more information.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
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