Building on their earlier achievements, the creature and visual effects teams of Weta, Ltd. are bringing to life The Lord of the Rings trilogy with work that is blowing the industry away and garnering awards at every turn. Greg Singer reports.
Kaydara Inc. is offering a free FBX-XSI plug-in to give users a seamless pathway to exchange 3D data between SOFTIMAGE|XSI, Kaydara MOTIONBUILDER and other Kaydara FBX partners. Kaydara's FBX is the most widely used 3D file interchange format (especially when working with motion-capture) for content creators wishing to acquire, author and re-purpose 3D and mixed media data.
Vicon, a leading developer in motion-capture, announced a new optical motion-capture solution for smaller production facilities and independent game developers via the new Vcam Optical Motion Capture Solution. It combines Vicon's newest camera, the VCam, with the Vicon 6 system and Vicon iQ software to users who need to deliver large quantities of character animation without a dedicated motion capture team or large studio space. Prices for Vicon V6 VCam systems start at $60,000.
3Dlabs is adding PCI Express to its Wildcat graphics accelerators to help users take advantage of the improved CPU processing power and interconnect bandwidth of the new industry interconnect standard. "PCI Express is enabling us to design VPUs [visual processor units] that complement the enhanced system capabilities to raise the bar for workstation productivity," said Neil Trevett, SVP of market development for 3Dlabs. He said his company will be working closely with Intel on its PCI Express enabled adapters.
A free version of Softimage's 3D nonlinear production software SOFTIMAGE|XSI v.3.0 designed for training purposes, is available to download for use with the Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 2000 platforms. The upgrade to SOFTIMAGE|XSI v.2.0 Experience CD, offers a wider range of capabilities for both professionals and 3D novices.
Motion tracking manufacturer Ascension Technology has hired the entire staff of Internav, Inc., an Essex Junction, Vermont company, which dissolved at the end of 2002. Established in 1997, Internav develops highly innovative magnetic tracking devices for medical clientele. Ascension acquired the Internav team to increase its skill sets for developing new tracking devices. Ascension trackers are widely used to capture ultrasonic image planes for making 3D images of organs, to guide instruments to targets within the human body, and to provide viewpoint control in medical training devices.
NXN Software's alienbrain VFX digital asset and production management system is now being implemented by Sony Pictures Imageworks for the production of visual effects, digital character animation and full-length CG motion pictures including the upcoming films THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and THE POLAR EXPRESS. Sony Pictures Imageworks has deployed NXN alienbrain VFX studio-wide to track motion-capture data, 3D models, rendered film clips and digitized live-action plates in upcoming productions.
Following Discreet's recent announcement of the releases of flint and flame v.8 and inferno v.5, The Foundry has ported its Tinder plug-in suite to accommodate the system changes in the new versions. Tinder for Discreet is a set of visual effect plug-ins including effects such as Lightning, BadTV and OldFilm. Tinder 4.2 also has the added bonus of major speed enhancements, with some plug-ins working up to 250% faster than in the previous version.
Interactive media technologies developer Pulse has incorporated ProductionSync and InstantSync, from California-based Automatic Sync Technologies, into Pulse Veepers 3.0, the latest version of Pulse's virtual character creation software. With ProductionSync and InstantSync technology, interactive 3D characters created in Pulse Veepers instantly include full lip-synchronization functionality.
Toon Boom Studio V2 is an affordable 2D animation software that takes animators on a smooth ride to create projects for the Web, video, wireless and more.
NewTek's Video Toaster will now come bundled with BOXX Technologies' award-winning 3DBOXX workstation. Video Toaster  is a Windows 2000-based product that processes uncompressed video in real-time and includes live keying, Internet streaming, real-time nonlinear editing, character generation, video painting and compositing, 3D animation, audio and video processing.
Recognizing the need for a file format that could serve as the industry standard, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) has launched its previously proprietary extended dynamic range image file format OpenEXR to the open source community. It is available at www.openexr.net. "Historically, the visual effects community and the motion picture industry have benefited from the creation of standards," said Jim Morris, president of Lucas Digital. "OpenEXR is yet another step in this direction.
Pixels Digital has released PiXELS 3D version 4.5 for OSX. The new version includes many new features such as a built-in logo maker for easily created text and broadcast images; easier lighting solutions; Global Illumination; and a newly engineered Inverse Kinematics system. A version for OS9 is also nearing completion. Pixels Digital is offering a 30-day demo of PiXELS 4.5 for OSX users. It is currently available online. PiXELS 4.5 retails for US$399. Upgrades for existing users are also available. For more information, visit www.pixels.net.
Caligari Corporation has announced the latest version of its flagship product, trueSpace. Version 6.5 features a new animation engine aimed at meeting the needs of game developers and professional animators. TrueSpace's modeling and design environment can be used for projects ranging from print or Web design to full character animation. Version 6.5's new non-linear animation capability allows users to compose complex animations using clips of motion sequences.
REALVIZ has launched its ImageModeler 3.5 for Windows XP/2000, after launching the Mac OSX version of the application in December 2002. Using photographs as a revolutionary approach to 3D content creation, REALVIZ ImageModeler 3.5 offers an innovative and intuitive approach to the often time-consuming and complex task of creating 3D models.
Character animation plug-in developer Di-O-Matic is currently in development on its latest plug-in, Voice-O-Matic. This new extension easily automates the process of lip synchronization for animated characters directly inside of 3ds max. By using an intelligent phonetic engine that can break down audio files and automatically assign correct phonemes (up to 40 of them), Voice-O-Matic provides the means for characters to talk in just minutes.
Profound Effects, Inc. has launched version 1.2 of Useful Things for Adobe After Effects. In addition to more than 40 new or improved effects, version 1.2 focuses on improving ease-of-use. Among these improvements is a keyword search function that lets users quickly find the effect they want. With about 200 effects already available, and more being added continually, finding effects had to become "a quick and easy" task according to Perry Kivolowitz, CEO of Profound Effects, Inc.
NewTek is now offering the VT  Graphic System: Video Edition, which combines NewTek's Video Toaster  with eyeon Software's professional compositing application DFX+, for US$2495. DFX+ is the 8-bit version of eyeon's image processing software, and the package includes 6 additional modules: visual effects, keying, input/output, 3d tools, paint and particles. DFX+ compositing power includes blue screen keying, motion tracking, text tools and more.
In honor of the 30th Annual Annie Awards (to be held February 1, 2003 in Glendale, California), DigiCel, Inc. is offering a 30% discount on any version of FlipBook to all new customers. With versions ranging from US$99 for aspiring animators to US$999 for studios and professional independents, DigiCel FlipBook is the company's popular 2D ink & paint software.
Discreet has released 3ds max 5.1, a maintenance update available to 3ds max 5 customers as a software download from Discreet's Website. The 3ds max 5.1 update offers enhancements in several functional areas such as scripting, animation, modeling, rendering and mapping. Discreet has also initiated the Discreet Subscription Program, a new service giving 3ds max 5 users an online automated method of purchasing, managing and obtaining maintenance software.
Discreet has announced the worldwide shipment of character studio 4, the character animation software that offers game developers and effects artists new breakthroughs in creating complex, realistic animated characters. Announced at SIGGRAPH 2002, character studio 4 includes significant enhancements designed to provide animators an easy-to-use system.
Crater Software has ended its four-year partnership with EnEfecto of Barcelona, Spain. Crater Software president Joe Alonso has re-acquired all assets and intellectual properties of the Montreal, Canada-based software developer, including its CTP Pro 2D animation software. "This acquisition was something I was personally looking forward to," said Alonso.
Reiss Studio in cooperation with Curious Labs, the publisher of Poser, has developed and released BodyStudio for Mac. BodyStudio integrates Curious Labs' Poser 3D character animation technology in Alias|Wavefront Maya, allowing Maya and Poser users to render and playback Poser animations directly inside Maya. In addition, Maya users with BodyStudio will have access to the largest source of pre-rigged characters and props in the world.
Zebra Development has released the first line of software aimed at changing the way storyboards are created. In development for two years, Storyboard Lite software will allow all levels of users to create storyboards with ease. Not only can traditional artists import, organize and modify their hand-drawn storyboards, but boards can also be created in three dimensions using a large expandable library of props and characters included with the software.
Content developer ScreamDesign.com has launched its original Web tool Flash Blaster II, which helps users create high-end Flash animations without software or training. According to ScreamDesign, even novice users can create custom, professional-quality Flash animations in a matter of minutes. FlashBlaster gives users access to a creative library of Flash animation templates, which can be modified easily to create personal messages with unique graphics, music and sound.