Friday Flashback #379


On a challenging project like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, we look for speed and flexibility in our character animation tools. With the performance of the Subdivision Surfaces, the non-destructive character creation workflow, the open-ended scripting, and the rendering power of mental ray in XSI, we here at Stan Winston Studio are able to produce extraordinary digital characters and visual effects. SOFTIMAGE | XSI was a natural fit for Sky Captain and the World of  Tomorrow and is the perfect fit for SW Digital.

Randall J. Rosa / Animation Director
André Bustanoby / VFX Supervisor
SW Digital

sky_captain.jpg

Friday Flashback #375


Microsoft Softimage to Be Acquired by Avid Technology

REDMOND, Wash., June 15, 1998 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to sell Softimage Inc., its wholly owned subsidiary based in Montreal, to Avid Technology Inc., a Massachusetts-based provider of digital video, film and audio solutions. As a result, Microsoft will own a minority stake in Avid and plans to continue its joint initiatives in digital television, interactive content development and other visual media technologies with Avid.

“For the last four years, Softimage has been an innovative leader in the digital media space and will continue this tradition of excellence as a part of Avid,”
said Craig Mundie, senior vice president, consumer platforms division, Microsoft.
“Microsoft will continue to be part of this success as an investor and strategic ally of Avid.”

Softimage has made major strides in providing state-of-the-art production tools for games development, films and commercials that have received numerous awards, including all seven films nominated for the Special Effects category at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony as well as blockbuster games like Broderbund’s Riven, Sega’s Virtua Fighter series and Nintendo’s Mario64. Since its acquisition by Microsoft, Softimage has added more than 100 employees in Montreal, mainly graphics artists and developers, reaching approximately 300 today. During this time, Softimage also helped pioneer the adoption of the Microsoft® Windows NT® operating system in the professional media creation industry and established Digital Studio, a state-of-the-art high-end integrated environment and tool set for digital media creation.

“Over the past three years, Softimage has driven major breakthroughs in the industry,”
said Moshe Lichtman, president of Softimage.

“We were the first to ship the highest performance3-D animation and video production products on the Windows NT platform. We have built and introduced a revolutionary nonlinear production paradigm base on our Digital Studio architecture. At the same time, we have grown our installed base from fewer than 1,500 users to over 21,000 and our customer base from fewer than 700 to over 6,000. Joining the Avid team will enable us to dramatically accelerate our joint vision of an integrated production environment and to continue pushing the envelope on behalf of our clients and partners in the digital media space.”

Avid, the industry-leading provider of digital content creation tools for professional film, video and audio post-production, has a user base of more than 40,000 editors and artists. Avid’s digital media expertise is well positioned to build on Softimage’s revolutionary digital nonlinear production architecture and its powerful SOFTIMAGE® |DS and SOFTIMAGE|3D product lines.

“This deal is a win-win for all involved,”
Mundie noted.
“Avid gains the benefit of rapid expansion into the 3-D market, a video production solution that ideally complements its current offerings and a stronger alliance with Microsoft. Softimage joins the team of a proven industry leader that will help the company continue to grow and be a force in the digital media space. Microsoft gains a strategic ally for continued development on Windows NT and our digital media initiatives.”

Softimage and its employees will remain in Montreal and other Softimage locations around the world. The parties expect to close the acquisition during the latter part of July 1998, subject to receiving clearance under applicable U.S. and Canadian laws and other customary closing conditions.

Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications, including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include SOFTIMAGE|DS (video production), SOFTIMAGE|3D (high-end animation), SOFTIMAGE|EDDIE (compositing) and Toonz (2-D cell animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at (http://www.softimage.com/) and http://www.microsoft.com/ respectively.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.

Microsoft and Windows NT are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Softimage is a registered trademark of Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.

Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Friday Flashback #373


PLF uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to pre-visualize challenging scenes in the Wachowski brothers’ second installment of The Matrixtrilogy, The Matrix Reloaded.

FREE YOUR MIND…ONCE MORE PLF Pre-viz Helps Reload The Matrix

by Michael Abraham
In The Matrix Reloaded, the first of two sequels this year from directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, the ingenious filmmakers behind The Matrix (1999) continue a cinematic trilogy that invites audiences to imagine their existence on different terms.  Again plugging into their unique vision – and to the talents of key collaborators such as Senior Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta – the directors take a truly comprehensive approach in bringing the movies from novel creative and technical concepts to the screen.The need to visualize in 3-D many of the most challenging scenes for both “The Matrix Reloaded” and for the third film, The Matrix Revolutions was integral to the Wachowski brother’s approach, as well as to the planning and production of the visual effects.

Pixel Liberation Front (PLF), whose pre-visualization work using SOFTIMAGE|3Dand SOFTIMAGE|XSI on such motion pictures as David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and Panic Room (2002) and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) has been turning heads around Hollywood, was hired to provide the pre-visualization for the film.

When Colin Green founded PLF in 1995, he worked on such action fare as Judge Dredd(1995), which starred Sylvester Stallone, and Eraser (1996), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Green interfaced closely with John Gaeta on these projects, and through this process developed a shared understanding of the methodology for approaching the VFX production process – a process that would ideally encompass extensive pre-viz, technical planning and execution to ensure creative continuity from pre-production through to post. When Gaeta was given the chance to supervise visual effects for “The Matrix,” a then little-known film being created by the all-but-unknown Wunderkind directors, he sought out Green and PLF.

Although scheduling conflicts got in the way for that production, the timing was right when Gaeta came back to PLF to collaborate on the sequels.”We were, of course, thrilled at the chance to work on ‘The Matrix’ sequels,” says Green.   “It was great to work with John Gaeta again, and it was a given that the ideas behind the effects would be groundbreaking.  When we first saw the storyboards and concept art (drawn primarily by Steve Skross and Geoff Darrow) for the Freeway Chase in ‘The Matrix Reloaded,’ we knew we had a very rare opportunity to be involved in something really special.”The Freeway Chase is one example of the film’s mind-blowing moments, with Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) battling agents, crashing cars, jumping from bridges and maneuvering motorcycles against traffic. It’s also an example of how PLF’s pre-visualization process came into play to ensure that the sequence lived up to the directors’ vision, and could actually be pulled off by the production crew on set and the visual effects team in post.

The entire process was carefully studied, not only by Gaeta and the rest of the VFX crew, but also by Stunt Supervisor R.A. Rondell, DP Bill Pope as well as many others to ensure that everything was coordinated creatively and technically to make the sequence as good as it could be.As was the case for all the shots on which PLF worked, the Freeway Chase seamlessly combines unbelievable stunt action with unprecedented CG and virtual cinematography. Lead Pre-viz artists Laurent Lavigne and Kyle Robinson created accurate digital models of all the elements in the sequence, including the set, characters, key props and set dressing.  They also added virtual cameras that allowed the filmmakers to pre-determine each shot and scenario right down to the type of camera lens that should be used.“We could tell from the start that the Freeway Chase was going to require a lot of very precise pre-viz to achieve the level of precision choreography and stylization that was evident in the boards,” says Green. “We worked in SOFTIMAGE|3D and SOFTIMAGE|XSI for over four months to create and polish the sequence design with John, Larry, and Andy.”  PLF’s artists then traveled to Alameda, California, to spend several more months supporting the shoot on set, translating the sequence from Softimage scenes into physical specifications that could be used by the location and stunt crew. Simultaneously, other members of the PLF team were developing pre-visualizations for the scenes to be shot in Australia.

All told, Green and PLF devoted the better part of two years to working on the productions, with Green spending nearly eleven months at Fox Studios in Australia, where he was joined by fellow PLF team members Lavigne, Robinson, Alex Vegh and Rpin Suwannath. The PLF team was joined in turn by Aussie artist Rob Nunn and Coordinator / Editor Duncan Burbidge.

The PLF team used XSI to pre-visualize in 3-D the filmmakers’ design of the so-called Mega-City, which appears in, and is central to, each of the sequels. “The Mega-City is really the ‘Downtown’ of The Matrix,” explains Green. “All of the action from both sequels was located within a comprehensive 3-D city map, which we built in XSI. We created some absolutely enormous scene files, and were definitely very happy to have SOFTIMAGE|XSI to help handle the task. The great polygonal modeling tools made this process much easier than it would have been in other applications.”
Green used SOFTIMAGE|XSI extensively on such scenes as the one showing Trinity’s dramatic exit out the window of a Mega-City skyscraper. The elaborate and complex screen action, which follows the character as she is pursued by an agent, required a full pre-visualization from PLF in SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

“To pre-visualize the complex camera animation style of these shots, we made considerable use of the Animation Mixer, the Constraint Blending capabilities, and easy rig-building interface in XSI. Having access to all of these tools inside the fast and responsive interface in XSI made a big difference for over-the-shoulder shot design sessions. It was wonderful to work with these tools.”