It's 2:00 a.m. and the pmG team is working late. They're up writing a piece of code for a client who is up against a deadline and needs to solve a problem fast. Not a big studio client, mind you, just an independent animator trying to finish a piece of facial animation for a homegrown project. With most other creators of professional 3D animation packages, you might (but not necessarily) expect that kind of service during normal business hours from a technical director (TD) in a cubicle. But at 2:00 a.m., it's more than likely going to be either Fori Owurowa, Lyle Milton or Dan Milling, founders and partners of pmG (project:messiah Group), and creators of project:messiah 1.5, the hi-end, low-cost professional 3D software toolset that has taken 3D animation by storm. It is also the first 3D program created from the ground up to fill the production needs of studios and the artistic needs of animators and technical directors.
From Jimmy to Zappy
It's been a year and several odd months since project:messiah was announced at Siggraph 1999. In just that time, the company has acquired a who's who client list that includes: Will Vinton Productions (spots for Wisk, Zappy, Mountain Dew and Hula Girl); Steve Oedekerk and Nickelodeon's animated feature and TV series, Jimmy Neutron (animated by DNA Helix); Edward Fudwupper, Berkeley Breathed's theatrical short for Nickelodeon and produced by Threshold Digital; Butt-Ugly Martians, a new series produced by DCDC; spots for Colgate, Wonka Candies, Thunderball Lottery and the show open for the D&AD Awards, all produced by Passion Pictures; sequences for features such as Battlefield Earth (Computer Café also used messiah on a package of spots for Nerf); and TNT's movie of the week The Hunley (in addition Station X Entertainment utilized messiah to create Full Tilt, the opening for Siggraph 2000's Electronic Theatre).
Other pmG clients include Savage Frog!, Rhythm n Hues, Coulter Studios/Henson Interactive, Pixelizm, Joe's Digital Bar & Grill, Grid Productions, Discreet Monsters, Creative Imagineering, Artworld UK, Blue Rocket Productions, Grid Productions, O Entertainment and rezn8, among others.
Technology for Art's Sake
What has made messiah a favorite tool of these global producers is its combination of speed, power and price. "messiah blends an extremely comprehensive toolset with an easy, uncluttered interface," says Owurowa. "The program features the world's fastest inverse kinematics (IK), bones and expressions, easy character setup, real-time interactive animation, local/world coordinates on the fly, forward/inverse kinematics and a pre-managed interface. Strictly speaking from Websters, a messiah is defined as the professed or accepted leader of a new hope or cause, and that's what we've tried to bring to 3D animation through our products."
Whether for an independent animator or a huge studio, the kind of customer service provided by pmG (six updates in just one year) is nothing new to the three partners, who celebrated the company's first anniversary in January. Together, they have created some of the most impactful products in the 3D marketplace. Fori Owurowa, with 14 years of CGI experience, has contributed a progressive series of advancements such as MetaNURBS®, Puppet Master™, Metamation, Morph Gizmo and FreeForm 3D, through version 5.5 of LightWave 3D. Lyle Milton spent 10 years at AT&T Bell Laboratories and AT&T Advanced Communication Laboratories as an award-winning artist, project manager, technology visualizer and marketer. As co-founder of One and Only Media, he created LightWave plug-ins such as MacroForm and FXtremePRO, and co-wrote the book, 3D Modeling the Natural Way. Dan Milling, a former LightWave 3D programmer, was the developer of Translator 3D, and co-developed Morph Gizmo with Owurowa.
"The key to understanding project:messiah is that this is a product created by artists, for artists. We have spent five years collecting the wish lists of digital animators and putting them into one fast, elegant package," says Dan Milling, who with Owurowa was a co-founder of Station X Studios before the two hooked up with Lyle Milton to form pmG. "Separately, we were all plug-in developers for LightWave," adds Milton. "When we were working on our own, we began to get a sense of what was missing in other products. This is not a criticism of other companies or programs, but we were all artists to begin with, not just programmers, and we knew the things we wanted to see in a software package. pmG became our vehicle to do that."
Only Getting Better A year after the release of project:messiah, pmG has reached its initial goals and is reaching out for much more. What has been the premier animation plug-in for LightWave, is about to take a giant leap with the upcoming release of the standalone messiah:studio suite, consisting of messiah:animate 3.0 and messiah:render, the company's new global illumination and radiosity renderer. The products can be purchased separately or as a full suite. The big news for the industry is that messiah:animate will also support and enhance Maya, 3D Studio MAX and Softimage XSI, in addition to LightWave. In a surprise announcement, pmG has just announced that the full suite will also port to Apple OS X.
In addition to fast, high quality diffuse illumination, messiah:render will feature caustics, volumetric lights that are accurate to real world conditions, soft shadows, efficient rendering of dense polygon scenes without a proportionally linear increase in render time, and luminous objects that not only glow but actually give off light. "The renderer can be controlled through messiah's GUI, its user-programmable shader system, which gets information for rendering at levels deeper than any other system's, and also through messiah:animate's powerful and fast expressions system, which provides ultimate control by procedurally modifying rendering and surface parameters," adds Owurowa.
messiah:animate will incorporate all the features of version 1.5 with many newly-added abilities. A faster, even more customizable interface will allow users to resize windows and easily change arrangements of control blocks, buttons and sliders. The new SDK (Software Development Kit) will allow developers to create their own effects and applications that work with, and talk to, messiah. Expanding on messiah's motion blending tools, a new Non-Linear Animation Editor greatly enhances the program's MotionClip™ technology. In addition, messiah:animate will also provide support for Renderman RIB files, and will enable users to write scripts that are just as powerful as compiled plug-ins.
"We set out to enhance and expand the tools we introduced with project:messiah, and we have accomplished that," says Milton "We are still what we started out as: a company created by artists, for artists, dedicated to creating and selling great 3D software. We are now ready to take the next step in the process: to expand and diversify our product line and create new customer bases. We are dedicated not just to being different, but better."
"Studios around the world have included project:messiah into their productions since the day it was released," says Milling, "and in the highly demanding world of CGI, that's no small task for a product that is a little over a year old, having debuted in November 1999. Messiah has become the secret weapon of producers, animators and TD's around the world."
Heather Kenyon is editor-in-chief of Animation World Network. After receiving her B.F.A. with honors in Filmic Writing from USC's School of Cinema-Television, she went to work for Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Currently, she is an International Board Member of Women In Animation and on the Board of Trustees of Trees for Life.