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The Enabling Tools of NAB2006

Bill Desowitz surveys some of the highlights of NAB2006 and isnt keeping what happened in Vegas a secret.

There were many product launches at NAB 2006 last week. The emphasis remains on improving workflow, greater IT solutions, compositing 2D and 3D elements and DI and asset management developments. Courtesy of NAB.

There were many product launches at NAB 2006 last week. The emphasis remains on improving workflow, greater IT solutions, compositing 2D and 3D elements and DI and asset management developments. Courtesy of NAB.

There may not have been much breaking news at NAB 2006 in Las Vegas for the 3D industry last week, but there were plenty of product launches and first glimpses of recent launches, as attendance surged past 105,000. For those in search of hot trends, there continues to be an emphasis on improving workflow, greater IT solutions, more discussion of compositing 2D and 3D elements and lots of DI and asset management developments. Not surprisingly, the plug-ins keep improving, too. Also, not surprisingly, Adobe and Microsoft had a much larger presence this year.

Hardware Improvements

HP introduced four high-performance workstations, which will be of interest to animators and vfx artists: The new desk-side HP xw6400 and xw8400 workstations, based on dual-core IntelXeon processors, feature greater expandability, while the HP Compaq nw8440 and nw9440 mobile workstations offer the power of a workstation with the convenience of a notebook. The nw9440 Mobile Workstation is HPs most powerful mobile workstation to date.

HP also provides major movie studios and entertainment companies with high-performance, standards-based server platforms for creating or adapting digital content.

To maximize productivity for VFX pros, BOXX Technologies began shipping the APEXX 8, a personal workstation with unprecedented eight Dual-Core AMD Opteron processors, capable of working in full 2K film resolution and has enough memory (up to 128GB) to work in realtime on extremely large files. With superior performance across 16 processing cores, the APEXX 8 offers a level of graphics computing previously only attainable on high-end Unix/RISC-based workstations.

HP introduced four high-performance workstations, including the new desk-side xw8400. Based on dual-core IntelXeon processors, it features greater expandability. Courtesy of HP.

HP introduced four high-performance workstations, including the new desk-side xw8400. Based on dual-core IntelXeon processors, it features greater expandability. Courtesy of HP.

Apple introduced the 17-inch MacBook Pro notebook computer featuring a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor that delivers dual-core performance in a new power-efficient design, making it ideal for use in MacBook Pros thin and lightweight design. The 17-inch MacBook Pro is up to five times faster than the 17-inch PowerBook G4, and offers an all new system architecture, including a 667 MHz front-side bus that is four times as fast as the PowerBook G4 and 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory expandable to 2GB that is twice as fast as the PowerBook G4.

Meanwhile, Apple held a tech preview of Shake 4.1, a universal binary that runs natively on Mac OS X running on either the PowerPC chip or on the Intel Core processor. It moved very quickly and smoothly using a shot from Peter Jackson's King Kong in which the CG ape is held captive in a New York.

Better Workflow

Autodesk continues to improve interoperability among 3ds Max, Maya and MotionBuilder users since its acquisition of Alias. The company strives for cleaner workflows, better service and licensing, and has no intention of disrupting the development of all-three powerhouse animation software.

The APEXX 8, a personal workstation with unprecedented eight Dual-Core AMD Opteron processors is capable of full 2K film resolution and enough memory to work in realtime. Courtesy of BOXX Technologies.

The APEXX 8, a personal workstation with unprecedented eight Dual-Core AMD Opteron processors is capable of full 2K film resolution and enough memory to work in realtime. Courtesy of BOXX Technologies.

Adobe, which recently unveiled Adobe Production Studio, a complete post-production software solution, combining full new versions of Adobe After Effects 7.0, Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, Adobe Audition 2.0, Adobe Encore 2.0 and the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Adobe Illustrator CS2, emphasized the new Dynamic Link feature. This allows users to move After Effects compositions directly into Adobe Premiere Pro and Encore DVD, bypassing intermediate rendering. Changes are automatically updated, so users can instantly see refinements in context.

AJA Video announced XENA 2K and the v2 software upgrade to the XENA LS and LH line of video playback and capture cards. XENA v2 software offers unique support for Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 across the Windows-based XENA product family.

V2 software for the XENA LS, LH and 2K additionally offers AJAs exclusive plug-ins for seamless integration with Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, in addition to existing support for Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Combustion and eyeon Fusion. XENA 2K combines state-of-the-art hardware for Windows PCs with AJAs own drivers, supporting uncompressed SD or HD formats, including new 2K and Dual Link formats. AJAs XENA cards are tailor made for creative professionals who work in anything from video editing to motion graphics design and compositing. Aside from multi-format uncompressed, XENA v2 software also offers HDV playback via the XENA card's multiple video outputs within Premiere Pro 2.0. This provides significant workflow efficiencies to digital artists and is ideal for color correction, in which 10-bit color space is key.

Apples 17-inch MacBook Pro notebook computer is up to five times faster than the 17-inch PowerBook G4, and offers an all new system architecture. Courtesy of Apple.

Apples 17-inch MacBook Pro notebook computer is up to five times faster than the 17-inch PowerBook G4, and offers an all new system architecture. Courtesy of Apple.

Microsofts Media & Ent. division has been strengthening its workflow solutions while expanding its partnerships, taking particular advantage of the convergence with Apple. This is a vital way of handling digital data, including animation or vfx shots.

Using Microsoft Windows Server System and Windows SharePoint Services, Digital Dimension, for example, has created a powerful workflow system that allows artists and managers to share information, collaborate on projects and manage workflow with greater efficiency. With the release of SharePoint Server 2007 early next year, this will improve organizational effectiveness and will utilize IT convergence along with Windows/Mac convergence.

Network storage is another component of workflow, and BlueArcs Titan system offer improvements in rendering speeds and dramatically reduce artist wait times from file transfers to downloading shadow maps. BlueArc removes data-flow constraints that bottleneck powerful render farms. Most recently, BlueArc helped C.O.R.E. Feature Animation with vital storage infrastructure when making the 3D-animated feature, The Wild.

Adobe Production Studio is a complete post-production software solution. Above the New Graph Editor is seen in After Effects 7.0. Courtesy of Adobe.

Adobe Production Studio is a complete post-production software solution. Above the New Graph Editor is seen in After Effects 7.0. Courtesy of Adobe.

Moreover, BlueArc has partnered with PipelineFX, makers of Qube!, a leading render farm management system. As creative workflows get more and more challenging with more complex and higher resolution projects, increased collaboration is required. Together, they can help remove bottlenecks in the pipeline and allow artists to focus more productively and create more iterations, resulting in higher quality CGI.

London-based FilmLight, which has been expanding its reach by partnering with Post Logic Studios, UPP Prague and Ollin Studios in Mexico City, introduced the Truelight Colorist Package, among other things. This is designed as a plug-and-play cost effective grading solution. Among the options is a Truelight Shake or Digital Fusion visual effects plug-in.

XENA 2K combines state-of-the-art hardware for Windows PCs with AJAs drivers, supporting uncompressed SD or HD formats, including new 2K and Dual Link formats. Courtesy of AJA.

XENA 2K combines state-of-the-art hardware for Windows PCs with AJAs drivers, supporting uncompressed SD or HD formats, including new 2K and Dual Link formats. Courtesy of AJA.

Software Solutions

Softimage had a chance to offer a closer look at its new Face Robot facial animation software solution. Many animators believe it represents a technological breakthrough by enabling pros to animate a digital human face with higher quality results and in less time than using traditional methods. In just six easy steps, artists can generate emotive expressions that replicate natural, organic movement of skin and soft tissue. The software works with all major 3D applications and easily integrates into any studio pipeline.

Animation supervisor David Andrews (Barnyard, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) had a chance to play with the beta version of Face Robot, and made the Man With a Robot short with partner Susan Kelly. In fact, Andrews was still tweaking Downtown Jimmys mouth, as he sang the praises of the software. Instead of spending a lot of time rigging and modeling, he said it allows the animator to do what he does best animate.

BlueArcs Titan system removes data-flow constraints that bottleneck powerful render farms and offers improvements in rendering speeds and artist wait times. Courtesy of BlueArc Corporation.

BlueArcs Titan system removes data-flow constraints that bottleneck powerful render farms and offers improvements in rendering speeds and artist wait times. Courtesy of BlueArc Corporation.

Meanwhile, Massive Software showed off the latest version of its award-winning AI-based software, Massive 2.5 (set for release later this month). Founder and product manager Stephen Regelous rewrote the programming to allow film quality results for hardware rendering. Version 2.5 allows more people to use Massive to create huge epic scenes for render velocity on a workstation without a render farm. In addition, it contains a Render Pass feature that assigns shaders and render attributes on a pass, and specifies which renderer for each layer. Plus the smart agent library has been expanded. Overall, Massive allows more main characters to be utilized with more physical contact.

Massive, which was used for the first time on such 3D-animated features as The Ant Bully and Renaissance, has also entered primetime TV, following the purchase by CBS Digital. The Twelfth Man, The Pope and Cat7 are among the projects utilizing Massive.

Animation supervisor David Andrews had a chance to play with the beta version of Face Robot, and sang the praises of the software while tweaking Downtown Jimmys mouth. Courtesy of Avid Technology Inc.

Animation supervisor David Andrews had a chance to play with the beta version of Face Robot, and sang the praises of the software while tweaking Downtown Jimmys mouth. Courtesy of Avid Technology Inc.

Autodesk demonstrated Toxik 2007, the latest version of its collaborative digital compositing software for features. The highlight of 2007 is a Paint system that allows interactive painting of high-resolution, high-dynamic-range imagery (HDRI). HDRI is growing in popularity because it contains extensive color and lighting information, ranging from direct sunlight to the deepest shadows. This gives digital artists more creative options than traditional digital imagery.

In other composting news, eyeon showcased Fusion 5.02 and launched the Fusion 5 Learning Edition (to help artists experiment and master Fusion free of charge). Fusion 5.02 adds 3D compositions with lights, cameras and primitives. Plus, Fusions OpenGL acceleration with display views and, and an essential change to ASCII files from binary, makes interactive viewing more flexible. Fusion was recently used on Oliver Twist, Poseidon and The DaVinci Code.

Autodesk showed off Toxik 2007, the latest version of its collaborative digital compositing software for features. Courtesy of Autodesk.

Autodesk showed off Toxik 2007, the latest version of its collaborative digital compositing software for features. Courtesy of Autodesk.

Boris FX unveiled Red Version 4.0, the next generation of its 3D compositing, titling and effects solution. Red integrates advanced 2D and 3D compositing, industry-leading software DVE technology, robust 3D modeling and animation, native vector titling, motion tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, Adobe Illustrator file animation and extrusion and more, all in a single plug-in. Version 4.0 introduces hundreds of new features, including more than 40 new filters, 16-bit color support and a sophisticated new paint engine.

NAB2006 marked the first public showing of Nuke v4.5, the Academy Award-winning compositing and effects system from D2 Software, a subsidiary of Digital Domain. It features an advanced 3D compositing workspace, 32-bit floating point rendering, Open EXR support, including 64 channels of image data, as well as a new image-based keyer and UI mode introduced with v4.5. Nuke is designed by artists, and is used by Digital Domain, Weta Digital, ReelFX, DNA Prods., Sway Studio and others. Nuke v4.5 is available for Linux, Irix, Windows and Mac OSX platforms.

Fusion, used by vfx house Rainmaker in the upcoming The Da Vinci Code, was showcased by eyeon. © 2006 Columbia Pictures. All right reserved. Image courtesy of Rainmaker.

Fusion, used by vfx house Rainmaker in the upcoming The Da Vinci Code, was showcased by eyeon. © 2006 Columbia Pictures. All right reserved. Image courtesy of Rainmaker.

Meanwhile, The Foundry of London showcased Furnace 3 plug-ins to enhance workflow and productivity for Autodesk and Shake artists. Furnace 3 is the result of continual research by The Foundry into advanced image processing algorithms, notably motion estimation technology. The new plug-ins include a sophisticated DeBlur solution, which automatically removes motion and out-of-focus blur, MatchGrade for automatic color histogram matching and Tracker, a multi-point tracker which can track the most challenging regions within a moving image. There are 11 new image processing tools for Discreet Flame, Flint, Fire, Inferno and Smoke; and 10 for Shake, many of which automate time-consuming processes in the creation of digital vfx.

Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.

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