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SIGGRAPH Expo, Alias booth

Final Render for Maya

Renderman for Maya

Brazil for Maya

Still More of Los Angeles

Softimage Face Robot

Howl's Moving Castle in 3D

Alias Advances

Alias had a strong new version of Maya to show off at their users' group meeting.  Maya 7 will do a significant amount of catching-up with the competition in modeling functions, adding better edge-loop support to insert and manipulate rows of points for more NURBS-like editing of subdivision surfaces, along with a variable edge-weighting solution developed with Pixar for adjusting between smooth and hard edges in proxy smoothed surfaces.  Maya 7 also showed some catching-up in multi-pass rendering controls.  In terms of innovative new functions, Alias star developer Duncan Brinsmead delighted the crowd with new solutions to cartoon rendering in which Maya's Paint Effects strokes were created for outlines, edges, and intersections of surfaces to represent the inking lines.  The new system for creating inking lines not only was mappable for creating all kinds of non-photoreal renders, it also turned out to be a flexible edge-mapping system that could be used to add effects at the intersection of two surfaces such as a chainsaw and a tree or a boat and water, and could be used to add lightable bevels to hard geometry or displaced outlines to simplified forms.  Animation in Maya 7 was also improved, with paintable shape weights to quickly create new target shapes for shape animation, a propagate topology changes function to make it easy to change the geometry of a model with multiple blendshapes and then add the changes to all the target shapes, and new IK systems adopted from MotionBuilder (which Alias acquired last year) for full-body IK with flexible controls for IK/FK blending.

For all the excitement about Maya 7, the Alias world seemed to have even more coming down the pipe in the new rendering options being prepared for Maya, all of them apparently to be priced at around $995 a license.  Final Render, a popular high-speed global illumination renderer for 3D Studio Max, was showing a new Final Render for Maya that should be available in September.  From the demonstration, it appeared that render speeds for occlusion, raytracing, and GI should compare very favorably with Mental Ray.  The first version isn't slated to include hair or fur, but it will include baking tools, so that you could bake a GI or occlusion solution in Final Render, even if you planned to render with another renderer or create realtime output.  As soon as this product has a free trial version available, it looks as if it will be worth downloading and doing some speed comparisons against Mental Ray.

Renderman for Maya, a new build of Pixar's Renderman written as an integrated Maya plug-in, should be available later this year.  Current users of Renderman Pro Server and Renderman Artists' Tools for Maya might not like RfM, because it can't write out RIB files and only runs as a Maya plug-in, not independently.  However, this seems to be a Renderman for the rest of us, fully supporting Maya hair, fur, paint-effects, and other shaders right out of the box, as well as letting users download or compile their own Renderman shaders.  For individual artists or smaller companies, having the power of Renderman, including high-speed DOF, motion blur, and sub-pixel level displacement, without a steep price-tag or a steep learning curve, should prove to be a very powerful option.

The acclaimed 3D Studio Max renderer Brazil was also showing a Brazil for Maya, still in alpha, which hopefully will be available by next year's SIGGRAPH.  There are a few effects like Bokeh effects in DOF that Brazil supports that aren't in other renderers yet, and there are many things it just seems to do really well.  I've seen a lot of terrific work done in Brazil, and look forward to seeing more about Brazil for Maya when it becomes available.

Softimage XSI

You couldn't miss Softimage's huge booth this year, with a giant screen facing attendees right as they entered the Expo.  Softimage had a terrific new version of XSI on display, their industry-leading pass rendering functions now augmented by the ability to render normal, albedo, occlusion and other kinds of maps from surfaces.  They were showing off a new property transfer function that allowed textures to be projected from any geometry onto any other geometry, and for full animation to be transferred between differently built, differently rigged surfaces, while still preserving all of the target shapes or other controls.  For those of us who use more than one program, Softimage also showed several features allowing functions such as Alt-key based navigation that could be optionally made similar to Maya's UI and keyboard shortcuts.

Softimage's new "Face Robot" has an unfortunate name (it sounds like one of those uncanny solutions that attempts to "automate" facial animation based on mocap or audio recognition, of which there are always several blemishing the show floor) but in reality is a powerful-looking facial skin solver, which allows for flesh to be pulled over bone or teeth or naturally swell and wrinkle where it accumulates based on deformers.  Interestingly it was developed with Blur Studio (famous for being based on 3DS Max), but based just on the demo, Face Robot looks like the kind of forward momentum we need to move facial animation beyond the age of libraries of target shapes.

Softimage's Users Group was great, with guests including the Director of CG from Studio Ghibli in Japan, who showed tricks used in Softimage in the production of films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

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3dRender.com : Industry & Jobs : SIGGRAPH 2004 : page 1 | page 2 | page 3 | page 4
Pictures and Article Copyright © 2005 by Jeremy Birn