"A lot of people were wondering, 'What's next for LightWave? You've got a whole new crew in there.' So, we decided to show the world Version 9.0 at SIGGRAPH, showing we're very capable of coming out with new features and fixing existing issues. We're looking at workflows and performance.Version 9.0 will have an impact on user interaction with almost every level of the product."
Rebuilt OpenGL engine: "We're supporting vertex and pixel shaders now, and tying that into our materials library," reports Roth. "So, it's a fairly accurate preview. There are still limits to OpenGL, of course, compared to what you get when you hit the render button."
Ability to handle larger data sets more quickly: "Obviously, we're going to assume that modern OpenGL cards are in use here, but it's our philosophy that today's high end OpenGL card will be tomorrow's gaming card for $100, so we feel very confident making certain assumptions about performance."
Speedier dynamic simulations: "One of our production partners had a scene that took 20 minutes to load based on some exploding spaceship material, and we got that down to 20 seconds. So, we're really concentrating on throughput and getting under the hood and saying, 'It's been a while since this may have been looked at, let's go in and see what we can do with today's point of view.'"
Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in Austin employed Softimage|XSI on Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D.
Roth adds, "There is the class of user in the production community that doesn't want you to get in their way - 'Don't do things that are going to slow me down.' So we try to keep that in mind, but at the same time we look at the basic workflows and 'Does it really slow somebody down if we take a feature with 13 mouse clicks and make it two?' There's some pretty obvious wins when you're looking at workflows and ease of use, but there are other things that people like that we won't touch. It's called communication. We're trying to improve the communication with our production partners. We've started little pilot projects along those lines, and we're working to expand those as we go."
PROJECTS: Feature film Serenity (Universal)
SIDE EFFECTS HOUDINI V.8
PLATFORM: Windows, Linux
PRICE: Starting at $1,299
USERS: Eighty percent film, 20 percent game and commercial
SIGGRAPH NEWS: Rigid Body Dynamic Solver: Digital Domain used this system for its latest Gatorade spot that has three people falling into little bits. Instead of animating smashing, breaking things, the workflow simulation handles it by plugging in a number of pieces, their weight and how they're glued together. It now also allows solvers to "work within the package and to talk to each other so you can have a rigid body talking to a cloth solver. That's typically not been done before," says Side Effects president/CEO Kim Davidson. For example, a rock could hit a cloth and both elements would interact in the physically proper way. Previously, users had to run the rock solver and hand animate the cloth at that connection. This also eliminates the need for animators to write their own solvers outside the package (like water, cloth or hair), let them run separately and then integrate them into Houdini. In addition to that architecture, there are two solvers: Rigid Body with Glue Constraints and Cloth with Panel Stitching, but they can still plug in their own solvers.
Interactive Photorealistic Rendering (IPR): This supports Houdini's own renderer, Mantra, as well as Pixar's RenderMan. "Lighting in our package or all packages is fairly labor intensive and you wait a long time to see all the shadow maps, all the effects of the lights, the effects of the shaders, and this allows very quick lighting iterations," says Davidson.
Most functionality upgrades come directly from their customers. "A lot of dynamics were driven through our alpha program with Digital Domain. The character improvements were driven with our work with Core Digital Production on the Disney feature The Wild. We're working with DNA in Texas [who worked on Jimmy Neutron] on a new movie called The Ant Bully [DNA Productions and Warner Bros.]. They're asking for lots of lighting improvements, deep shadow maps and lots of asset management tools, like 'I want to flag my objects this way.' We were the customers 17 years ago; 80 to 90 percent of our company is working and talking with customers. We're pretty customer-centric," he says.
PROJECTS: Gatorade Shattered spot (Digital Domain), feature film The Wild (Disney)
(32-bit and 64-bit)
PLATFORM: Windows (including Windows XP 64), Linux
PRICE: Foundation: $495, Essentials: $1,995, Advanced: $6,995
USERS: Games, film effects
SIGGRAPH NEWS: Sixty-four-bit: "There are three key areas where making a native 64-bit version really makes a difference," explains Gareth Morgan. "Performance: the limits of the system are obviously much higher. Precision: 64-bit can handle much more precision in fewer clock cycles. Memory: they can address an enormous amount of memory space. Another area where we've invested a lot is in the core architecture of XSI, to make sure it can really efficiently manage very complex data sets, make the best use of the memory and the hard disk subsystem that's available."
Richer, more complex shader technology: "Along with the next-generation consoles, and the very fast, powerful hardware-accelerated graphics pipelines the systems are now going to have, you need authoring tools and also ways for creative people to get the most out of those technologies. Over the years we've pioneered realtime shaders inside XSI; it's a way to associate these rich rendering pipelines with models and characters," says Morgan.
PROJECTS: Films: Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D (Dimension Films) Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox), Sin City (Dimension Films). Games: Half Life 2 (Valve), Metal Gear (Konami).