Bill Desowitz recaps the highlights of SIGGRAPH 2004.
One exhibitor put it best when observing the turnout for SIGGRAPH 2004 in Los Angeles on Aug. 9-12: "You don't have the people who come to swipe their cards, but those who really need to be here." Actually, the crowd was better than expected at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with more than 28,000, including a large contingent of students. That's an increase of 4,000 from last year in San Diego.
Indeed, while the majority of the booths were small, the floor wasn't overly crowded, and it was very easy to get from one place to another. As was the case last year, the wow factor was pretty minimal, as the industry continues to cut back, consolidate and prioritize in pragmatic ways. The big news, of course, was the surprise announcement that Alias had purchased Kaydara. That overshadowed everything, including Discreet's unveiling of 3ds max 7, Houdini's announcement about Houdini 7 in public beta, the new Vicon MX MoCap cameras and Softimage's price slashing of XSI. Not surprisingly, a number of artists beamed that the MoCap capabilities of Motionbuilder will make Maya even stronger as a character animation tool.
Then there was the New Zealand presence in the post-Lord of the Rings vfx landscape. First, Massive Software founder Stephen Regelous was poised to promote the launch of Massive 2.0, the artificial-intelligent driven 3D crowd animation technology with its realtime animation capabilities and responsive digital stunt agents. Plus there was the preview of CATMuscle from Character Animation Technologies, the invaluable muscle deformation system. Meanwhile, New Zealand effects house Albedo had interesting news: it was tapped to contribute 3D digital environments and matte paintings to the forthcoming vampire flick, Perfect Creature, produced by Darclight Films and The New Zealand Film Commission.
But that wasn't all. I found myself having lunch at a little Mexican haunt with Bay Raitt, the famed creature facial lead on The Lord of the Rings movies, and Pixar co-founder and RenderMan guru Dr. Steve Upstill. It seems the two have formed a new 3D studio, Box Rocket Animation, with Upstill based in Wellington and Raitt in Seattle. They are just getting started and are very excited, but have nothing to report at the moment. However, Raitt observed that it's interesting to see who's up and who's down after being away for so long in New Zealand, and suggested that the coming of the CG auteur should shake things up before we know it.
Speaking of celebrity sightings, I also ran into Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow director Kerry Conran. He was not only there to help tout SensAble's haptic tools for simple touch-enabled 3D modeling, but was also scouting some of the latest software to improve his previs capabilities, as he goes into preproduction on A Princess of Mars. It was nice of both Kerry and Chris Landreth (Ryan) to stop by our booth to say hi.
A few of the other noteworthy announcements included:
HP Remote Graphics, an interactive 3D graphics software application, enabling artists, engineers and designers to work closely with remote teams in a more productive manner and eliminate the need to upgrade to an expensive 3D graphics card on each user's machine. The software (at an estimated U.S. street price of $399 for HP systems, including licenses for a single sender and receiver) can be used with workstations, notebooks or commercial desktop PCs, providing users with an easy-to-use, secure collaboration solution. The software can reduce expensive travel costs associated with face-to-face meetings by enabling such information to be transferred securely across a standard network connection by hosting the intellectual property within a secured network boundary. DreamWorks has used Remote Graphics since the production of Shrek 2 for virtual collaboration between the Redwood City and Glendale campuses, and The Savannah College of Art and Design is currently evaluating a beta version.
A new digital asset library module for Avid's Alienbrain VFX asset management system. The Internet-based module (available now from between $50,000 and $150,000) offers unprecedented archiving and retrieval functionality to teams producing large volumes of graphics files for complex visual effects and computer-generated feature projects. Using the Alienbrain VFX client, customers can ingest artwork onto the central Alienbrain server, where it can be shared with other artists or teams, or stored for later use. Once the content is ingested, artists can use the asset library Web portal to run basic and advanced Google-like searches for 2D and 3D content, shader scripts, motion capture files, stock footage and other assets. Digital Domain, driven by the enormity of The Day After Tomorrow, is the first studio to integrate the Alienbrain VFX digital asset library module into its production process.
- Splutterfish and The Orphanage forming a strategic alliance to further strengthen and expand the former's award-winning 3D rendering suite, Brazil r/s. The San Francisco-based vfx facility (The Day After Tomorrow) has made Brazil r/s its primary rendering solution and will work to make it more compatible with other 3D software packages, such as Maya.
Yet it was the appearance of so many small companies with new tools that engaged many of the attendees. Here are just a few:
Z-Brush 2 (Pixologic) takes CG modeling to the next level with greater productivity as a result of multi-resolution mesh editing (enabling artists to add low or high frequency details); displacement and normal maps (in which detailed maps can be generated for low-res base meshes); visibility controls (in which portions of any mesh can be hidden, offering numerous advantages); new sculpting brushes (providing new ways of adding detail to meshes of any resolution in intuitive ways); and displacement projections (which utilize depth-enabled paintbrushes and tools to apply mesh displacements by simply brushing them onto the surface of an object).
Genicap Supergraphx 3D Shape Generator (Genicap Corp.), based on the Gielis Superformula, allowes the designer to create virtually any 3D shape; he/she can then ask the computer to instantly generate a screen full of variations to choose from, and can greatly reduce the file size.
The FreeForm Modeling Plus System (SensAble) is intended for digital artists and designers. Haptics can increase productivity by speeding up common 3D development tasks, such as modeling, animation and painting. The featured DCC demonstrations included the same workflow used on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: a prototype 3ds max plug-in and a process workflow featuring the SensAble FreeForm Modeling Plus system with Maya.
Gypsy 4 (Meta Motion) is the lowest priced ($20,000) full-body wireless MoCap system and offers exceptional realtime performance and ease of use. The systems have a wireless range of up to a third of a mile outdoors or 200 yards indoors and can be used with optical systems in a Gypsy Hybrid configuration to greatly extend the number of actors captured in realtime.
Wildcat Realizm 800 (3D Labs) is the dual-VPU, PCI Express-based graphics accelerator that delivers the required power and performance with SOFTIMAGE|XSI v.4.0 for manipulating and rendering the most data-intensive scenes.
- modo (Luxology) is one of the most advanced polygonal and subdivision surfacing modeling tools around. It was engineered to meet the challenges of the increasing demands of film, gaming, TV and other markets. Due to the flexible nature of the modo toolset and interface, it is excellent for creating models of any type, from organics to hard surfaces, from high-resolution film models to low-resolution realtime meshes.
Bill Desowitz is the editor of VFXWorld.