USERS: Film and a wide range of digital content creation including games, Web, industrial and print. "We've got users up and down the spectrum," says Andrew Cross, VP/software engineering. "I was out in Hollywood recently and I was stunned at the number of people using LightWave for high-end production. On the flip side, we've just got a huge number of individual users out there. We tried to listen to a broad range. We were consistently being told where the weak points of LightWave are - character animation was clearly one of those where we've made huge strides.
"Something that we've not been that strong in is the games industry," he admits. "The way it's looking today, probably the two biggest game releases this year [Doom 3 and Dark Sector, the new game from Digital Extremes, the makers of Unreal] are very significantly based in LightWave."
SIGGRAPH NEWS: Last year, NewTek showed a preview of V.8; this year, users get the real deal, loaded with more features. "One of the key things is we've got a whole new dynamic system - new rigid bodies, new soft bodies. There's bone dynamics, something completely new, that allows you to apply dynamics operations to the bones themselves which would then deform the mesh or the model that they're attached to. That gives you very good realtime performance," says Cross. "We've got a new particle system, new modeling tools, we've got a new morphing system. How much more do you want?"
Kansas City-based animator Dave Winslow created an animated show open, via Strata 3D, for client Helzberg Diamonds that ran during a three-day sales event held on Amelia Island in Florida.
SOFTWARE: Side Effects Houdini V.7, release - beta at SIGGRAPH
PLATFORM: Windows, Linux
PRICE: $1,599 - Select (modeling, rendering, animation) .
PROJECTS: Feature films: Spider-man 2, Around the World in 80 Days, The Day After Tomorrow.
USERS: "We are dedicated to our existing customers. We build these products based on their feedback," reports Tony Christiano, Side Effects COO/VP of US operations. Side Effects is focused primarily on film, though it has customers in many sectors of digital content creation.
SIGGRAPH NEWS: "Going into SIGGRAPH, what we're trying to hone in on is, one, the importance of an integrated, comprehensive pipeline of technology and, two, an innovative partner that understands production," says Christiano.
Its upgraded pipeline offers more refined implementation of digital asset technology, a way to package an object, put a customized interface on it and hand off to anyone; and productivity improvements such as Take Manager to simultaneously view and/or blend various takes without destroying previous work. Christiano stresses that Houdini's pipeline is comprehensive, "all pieces are built to work together from the outset," though the pipe is open enough to replace elements.
Special pricing for students
"We're seeing a lot more success these days and people are really changing the way they deliver film. One of the things that was lacking in the past was the ability to control the art form. People would try to make Pixar-level films but found that they didn't have the infrastructure."
More partnerships: Side Effects is adding more staff and production consultants in order to share technology, product knowledge and help clients ramp up pipelines more quickly.
"Technology is just part of it," he says. "I think what they're looking for as well is a vendor that's going to partner with them.... with a party like Side Effects software," explains Christiano. "In the past a lot of the pipelines have been very disparate. People would buy seven or eight different products and glue them together. In one area it worked quite well - renderer, compositor or modeler - but when they brought the whole pipeline and project together they had problems running everything through the process. The biggest impact of that is at the end of the project when the director or producer wants to make a change and they find they're backed into a corner; they don't know how to make those changes and that impacts the art. The other thing is when they have to do something new or they have to develop a crowd or a scene or a different type of look for cloth, hair or animation, they find they have to innovate and it's a bit risky, expensive and it takes time. They like to partner with a reliable party [Core Feature Animation and DNA Production are examples] that has done it before and can help them through."
SOFTWARE: Softimage|XSI 4, release - launched in April at NAB, shipped in June.
PLATFORM: Windows, Linux
PRICE: $3,995 - Essentials (down from $6,750 last year), $8,995 - Advanced, $1,995 - Foundation, new this year. Of the nine feature subsets that all XSI packages have, Foundation does not have 20 percent of the individual functions including polygon reduction, texture layer editor and advanced rigs.
Side Effects is at SIGGRAPH with a beta version of Houdini 7.
"XSI is the newest, youngest 3D content creation tool on the market," says senior product manager, Gareth Morgan. "We've been working at the high end of the market to mature the technology and broaden the feature set so it's at parity or exceeding anything else out there. We feel we're reaching the stage where it's starting to be mature as a product line and we think that we can now go after a broader customer base in terms of some of the more price-sensitive customers."
PROJECTS: The feature film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind used XSI 4's new rigid bodies and simulation engine to create effects shots of a house collapsing. Harry Potter 3 contains effects shots.
USERS: Entertainment content creation for broadcast/post, film production and games.
SIGGRAPH NEWS: Character Development Kit, a scriptable language for high-level elements of character rigs, extends XSI's character animation functionality. "We make it a lot easier for character artists and animators in general to build complex, articulated rigs that exhibit some really interesting behaviors, structures like tails, clavicles, dog legs, all these things that have historically taken artists a long time to set up," describes Morgan. "Now they're bundled into this structured language that is fully integrated in our new scripting system, which makes it easy to assemble characters from these components. Around that is a range of advancements around animation keyframe editing, integration of audio and AV feedback into the animation editing."
There's Mental Ray 3.3 integration. "A lot of performance improvements there - displacement, motion blur, shadow mapping," he says.
There's open UI for customization. "One of the strategic goals for version 4 for us was to take this already refined UI and really open up the customization," Morgan adds. "The whole UI is an XML frameset so you can rebuild all the layouts, you completely change the whole UI based on XML files. In terms of keyboard customizations and workflow and tool customizations, there's a huge number of options for specific functions. The artist will really get a lot more productivity out of the package based on that.
"We've noticed a trend in 3D content creation - probably the majority of 3D productions are now done with large distributed teams. It's a trend of increasing specialization as artists work on more complex content and sophisticated visual results."
NYCs UVPhactory used Softimage|XSI V.4.0 on this ID for the Voom Network.
"This is the hugest release in terms of functionality since Version 1; it's quite an important cycle for us," says Morgan.
SOFTWARE: Strata 3D CX, release - June 2004
PLATFORM: Windows, Mac
PRICE: $695 - same as last year.
PROJECTS: Corporate projects for Helzberg Diamonds and Skechers stores.
USERS: "Most people would be using this for previz," says user community director Lex de Azevedo. "Although we can pretty much render for any resolution, we're well known for the designers. We're a really easy-to-use program and then that can be sent out to the people in the studios."
Kaydara MotionBuilder was used by UbiSoft on the Splinter Cell 3 videogame.
NEWS: [Editor's note: Strata will not be attending the SIGGRAPH show this year.]
Strata 3D CX now offers connectivity to Adobe tools. Significant workflow enhancements are achieved by linking to Photoshop and Illustrator. Photoshop files are read in as live link textures. "If you import a Photoshop file as a texture, you can work on it in Photoshop, save it and those changes will automatically apply so you don't have to re-import it. That's pretty handy for workflow, that saves a lot of time," says de Azevedo.
CX now supports HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images). This new function can be used in textures or as Lightdomes to light a 3D scene. Used with Strata's Raydiosity renderer, users may now generate true light-energy based images.
CX can now import Kaydara MotionBuilder models. "We do 3D modeling, rendering, animation but we don't specialize in motion data, so that's definitely a solution for character animation for our users. We import their files - you can access different takes so you can have a character that's running, falling or throwing a punch. It also comes with all the texture mapping information," he says.
SOFTWARE: Alias Maya 6, release - May 2004 (In June, Alias announced Maya Unlimited 6 for Mac OS X.).
PLATFORM: Windows, Macintosh, IRIX and Linux.
PRICE: $1,999 - Maya Complete, $6,999 - Maya Unlimited 6. Prices remain the same for Maya 5
PROJECTS: Feature films I, Robot, Spiderman 2.
USERS: Film and broadcast, game development, Web and interactive media, education and visualization markets along with students and 3D animation hobbyists.
SIGGRAPH NEWS: New ways to create, edit, combine and repurpose animation data. Complete re-architecture of Trax nonlinear animation system and other additions like Motion Retargeting. New Maya Hair system with a robust set of native and integrated tools that make creating and working with long hair fast and straightforward. Advanced character creation tool improvements like Maya Cloth - it's now as easy to work with cloth objects (created from modeled geometry) as garments constructed from flat panels. Fur can now be rendered in Mental Ray for Maya.
"Maya 6 technology significantly advances character creation and animation," says Rob Hoffman, senior Maya production marketing manager. "It is a customer-driven release packed with literally hundreds of new features and feature enhancements, all of which are motivated by user requests."