by Jim Bennett (August 10, 1999)
The Siggraph 99 exhibits opened today at 10:00 PDT to an excited and interested crowd which jammed the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Avid unveiled its much anticipated next generation 3-D animation solution code-named "Sumatra" which is the graphic industry's first truly nonlinear animation system. It is now entering broad scale beta testing and is targeted for release in late 1999. It includes non-destructive animation mixing, interactive rendering, and real-time surface continuity management. David Miller, Softimage 3D product director, says "Sumatra is a revolutionary product that is redefining many the key paradigms of animation pioneered by Softimage over the last 10 years."
Sumatra's advanced performance features allow animators to work interactively, regardless of environment and according to their particular needs. Since the entertainment and game industries are demanding more and more special effects, while at the same time production costs are skyrocketing, Avid and other vendors are working hard to develop approaches that will at contain and ideally reduce production costs.
One of the key areas within the next two years will be the collaboration of 2D and 3D graphics that will most likely develop in parallel. Intel's new Merced processor will add vastly increased power according to Avid technical specialists. In a stunning demonstration for Reviews OnLine, I experienced innovative rendering techniques of texture mapping in real-time. The holy grail of Avid and the entire computer graphics industry, is to make "believable realistic human images". Even today, virtual actors are starting to take a supporting role in films such as Star Wars. According to Avid and other computer graphics specialists I spoke to, the next few years or going to be very exciting, especially with Softimage.
Evans & Sutherland featured a full-size theater dome that highlights the company's major visual systems in graphics acceleration technologies. The 20 foot high, domed theater is coupled with a live program created using the Evans & Sutherland StarRider system which takes audiences on a trip to time and space. See our coverage of the StarRider theater at the Adler planetarium in Chicago, the first public theater in the world to use this technology.
At Siggraph `99, the audience was immersed in realistic full-color 3-D imagery, with stereo surround sound, as they watched fighter jet skirmishes, space travel and and exploration of the human eye. This show used Evans & Sutherland's REALimage graphics acceleration technology, MindSet Virtual Studio System and the new RAPIDsite 3-D visualization system. This technology allows StarRider owners to create their own content, cost-effectively, on a system that delivers from one to six channels of high-resolution digital video and stereo surround sound.
Stan Walker, from Evans & Sutherland, said that more planetariums, in science centers throughout the world, will be using existing and newly developed Evans & Sutherland systems and programs. Strategic partnerships using E&S technology will be very critical to future business development worldwide. It appears that the goal of the full domed immersive experience, with its dramatic effects, is to create a Holo-Deck style experience of the Star Trek television show.
Play Inc. demonstrated Trinity, a new nonlinear editing system with unprecedented real-time functions, advanced post production tools and superior image quality (D1) that is priced well below other comparable nonlinear editing systems. Through a unique, custom hardware architecture, Trinity produces unparalleled real-time effects such as 3-D video tracing which allows editors to create 3-D animation graphics with simultaneous live reflections, refractions, shadows and multiple lighting sources. Another useful feature is random disk access for fast nonlinear performance, without time consuming print to video delays. Now video clips can be played back at slower or faster speeds or even in reverse, without additional rendering.
The Alias|Wavefront booths were crowded with people experiencing new products such as Maya paint effects which enables a user to paint and animate the most complex objects in three-dimensional space. This was some of the most impressive software technology I've seen in a long time. And it is ready to use in production. The ability to paint and render an entire environment in 15 minutes is truly spectacular. This product will give many production houses the ability to take on projects never previously considered and even those with even tighter deadlines.
Intergraph's CEO Wade Patterson stated that his customers wanted a workstation family designed for performance, functionality, affordability, and scalability. Today, at Siggraph `99, they introduced the ZX, a whole new class of products. These products make it is easy to produce high-definition and broadcast video as easily as producing standard definition video is today. These products are based on Intergraph hardware and software technology and are packaged into black, modular, rack mount components that fit into existing video broadcast studios. Among the new products introduced are theRAX, an array of studio ready components which allow customers to work at a video resolution, regardless of output format or frame rate and which also convert existing video content to other formats.
Intergraph's TDZ family of workstations allow extreme high-end 3-D graphics and high-performance for power users, while their mid-range products offer strong price performance for budget conscious users. The entire family focuses on the visual computing market along with digital media, animation, prepress, publishing, visual simulation, scientific visualization, MCAD, and virtual reality. These products use 3D Wildcat graphics coupled with Pentium 3 processors at up to 600 MHz, in either single or dual configurations. Crystal clear, single and dual panel flat display monitors were also featured at the Siggraph booth.
Warwick Technologies demonstrated some interesting applications including the artsgallery.com site which is an innovative showcase of great advertising. Portfolios.com is an unique marketplace for creative talent to display their works online. Medialot.com offers online space for collaboration, project management and digital asset management. The Warp store displays tools, books and other resources especially selected for the creative, advertising and marketing communities. This site is continually expanded to include new community-based content resources. Warwick is also planning on adding new sites that will deliver more value, in today's competitive online climate.
Digital Domain's Bob Hoffman showcased some of the companies latest creations for the advertising and entertainment sectors. Talking with senior management I learned that their first, high-level commercial project was with Chrysler's Jeep division in 1994 and won two Groton awards at the Cannes film Festival. The current Pontiac "metal city in desert" campaign, shows full-blown computer graphics environments that are quite spectacular. Aside from leading-edge computer graphics, their system allows for ad reproduction, so campaigns can be upgraded very cost effectively. General Motors is now holding greater workshops at Digital Domain and are being shown the possibilities and promises of the new digital age.
Last but not least, is another visit to the Millennium Motel. In the "food for thought" department, all of this creative thought requires energy and personal well-being. Think Products of Ventura, California, provides a variety of food and drink which is healthy and tasty for the demanding tech professional. Their interactive Think bars are tasty, nutritious and a hip, fun food for the mind, body and spirit. Think Products feel that good, healthy food doesn't need to taste (or look like) dog food. These new products are available at local health food and grocery stores.
Wednesday promises to be another exciting day with more exciting new products.
© 1999 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.