SIGGRAPH 2014: Fabric Engine's potential for VFX tool development

Posted By Scott Singer on August 14, 2014 08:54 am | Permalink
Fabric Engine is a visual framework for rapid development of custom 3D VFX tools that are as fast as dedicated custom "written from scratch" applications, but without the usual costs in time and resources. It does this by providing a core, node-based GUI development environment that can take full advantage of the computer's GPU. Much of the overhead and time involved in developing a standard one-off application is taken up in user interface and basic data IO. Fabric Engine can generate standalone solutions or be fully-hosted in existing applications such as Maya, 3DS Max, Cinema 4D, and soon, Houdini.

CEO Paul Doyle says that the company's first operating assumption is that no significant shot is ever completed simply "out of the box," and that all studios, especially major ones, have a set of custom steps, plug-ins and approaches that are critical to creating a final image. 

To help studios discover how easy custom solutions can be, Fabric Engine is giving away 50 copies of its development platform for free to every studio that requests it. Their plan is to get market penetration based on their framework's ease of use, power and ease of integration. For the smaller shops, that means they might have a site license that never expires. It opens up a world of small, custom-tool development to smaller shops because it takes care of most of the lower-level details that make tool-creation unaffordable.

For larger shops, Fabric Engine also offers paid support, assistance and data obfuscation to protect sensitive IP from being visible in applications that need to be sent out to smaller facilities. For many larger shops, tools such as Maya have often become just host shells for in-house custom engineering. The overhead of a large monolithic application like Maya can actually become an encumbrance to a lightweight, single-purpose process. Processes built using Fabric Engine can have a much smaller resource footprint in both memory and speed because these tools use only necessary components. 

Fabric Engine is already integrated into the pipelines of MPC and Double Negative to handle tasks as critical as rigging. However, they are also working with smaller facilities, such as Hybride, to develop a crowd animation system that fits the niche between the number of characters that can be efficiently hand-animated and the number that would require purchasing a system such as Massive. This is exactly the kind of application that is under-represented in available commercial software, often resulting in either the time expense of hand-animating too many hero characters or the unnecessary investment in time and money of an overly-advanced crowd simulation solution that is meant mainly to provide high-level artificial intelligence-control of thousands of actors.

Fabric Engine allows tools to be built using only the components necessary and without the need to re-implement standard, ubiquitous functionalities, such as dependency graphs, data IO, hardware rendering and display. For larger facilities, this could mean creating tools that existing packages don't handle, while for smaller shops it opens the door to make custom tool-development affordable. By making it so accessible it might just become ubiquitous.

Scott Singer is a Digital Effects Supervisor at Tippett Studio. He can be reached by email at: