Friday Flashback #345


Softimage “Twister” Enters Beta at SIGGRAPH

ORLANDO, Fla., July 20, 1998 — Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., announced today at SIGGRAPH 98 that its next-generation rendering system, code-named Twister™, is entering the beta test cycle with delivery to customers scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1998.

Twister is the first module of the soon-to-be-released 3-D animation platform, code-named “Sumatra,” which provides a revolutionary new approach to character animation and introduces the concept of nonlinear animation (NLA).

Twister is well-suited for use in combination with SOFTIMAGE® |3D version 3.8, now shipping to customers, which allows users to perform interactive rendering in a next-generation environment. Combining the power of mental ray® version 2.0 with the architecture and interface of the “Sumatra” next-generation 3-D platform, Twister fits neatly into the SOFTIMAGE|3D 3.8 workflow with an interactive tool set that complements and extends the functionality of the current-generation software.

Twister takes advantage of the forthcoming “Sumatra” user interface, which provides much smoother workflow and data access while maintaining the familiar and intuitive Softimage user environment that has become integral to much of the animation industry.

Twister will revolutionize the way people handle production-level rendering,” said Dan Kraus, product manager for Softimage. “Not only does Twister provide the next generation of mental ray, but it also makes tuning and editing scene-rendering parameters a completely interactive process. We fully expect Twister to set a new benchmark in the industry as the first truly interactive renderer.”

“As a beta test site for mental ray 2.0, we’ve been extremely pleased with the truly interactive nature of the tool set and we eagerly await the opportunity to put ‘Twister’ to use in our facility,” said Dave Throssell, head of 3-D animation at London-based The Mill FX.

“Twister seamlessly integrates mental ray 2.0 into the rendering environment, thereby taking full advantage of new functionality for both interactive and batch rendering.”

 

Interactive Renderer Delivers Improved Creativity and Workflow

Twister allows users to render directly in the 3-D view, with instant feedback that shows how parameter changes affect the final rendering quality. Whereas rendering was once a time-intensive process, it will now become essentially another viewing mode. This interactive view evaluates the entire scene-rendering tree, and it allows users to view and modify all rendering effects, including motion blur and shadow mapping.

Twister also integrates many production conveniences, such as scene-level renderpass definition, allowing users to predetermine all of the computer graphics passes to be used in a production.

Next-Generation Photorealism Sets New Standard for Quality and Workflow

Twister is based on mental ray version 2.0, a next-generation renderer that will set new standards for quality and workflow. In addition to significantly improved performance, mental ray version 2.0 offers a host of new features, such as depth-map shadows, scanline motion blur and polygon displacement, as well as support for caustics, which allows the renderer to accurately calculate and render the light diffusion around a scene.

Twister allows users to distribute jobs quickly and easily across multiple CPUs, both locally and remotely, using new techniques such as distributed tesselation and local texture caching for significantly improved distributed performance.

Pricing and Availability

Twister is scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of 1998. Licensed users of the extreme version of SOFTIMAGE|3D under a valid maintenance contract will receive
Twister at no charge. Customers with the base version of SOFTIMAGE|3D will receive an approximately 50 percent discount on Twister.

About Softimage

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 cel 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.

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

Microsoft is either a registered trademark or trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Mental ray is a registered trademark of mental images Geselleshaft fur Computer Film und Maschinenintelligenz mbH & Co. KG, Berlin, Germany. All rights reserved.

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

Softimage general information:

United States and Canada: (800) 576-3846

International: (818) 365-1359

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/  on Microsoft’s corporate information pages.

Friday Flashback #335


Interview with Joseph Kasparian
Textures & Lighting Lead on 300 at Hybride, Joseph Kasparian talks about creating 540 visual effects shots, the production process and how to work with completely green-screen shot movies.
March, 8th, 2007by Raffael Dickreuter 

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Joseph Kasparian, Textures &
Lighting Lead at Hybride.

Tell us how and why you got started in the cg industry?
When I was 18, I dreamed of becoming the lead guitarist of a big band that would tour around the world or becoming a professional skateboarder. For some enigmatic reasons, I ended up in Finance at the University of Montreal (HEC). But the day that I saw the T1000 in Terminator 2, I realized what I really wanted to do for a living and that would be Special Effects.

In 1992, a close friend of mine introduced me to the world of computer graphics. I realized that the possibilities were endless. I kept on studying full time in Finance but was spending 6 to 8 hours a day learning 3D at home. It was the biggest hobby I ever had.

When Jurassic Park came out, I heard the professional software used for the dinosaurs was Softimage 3D and that it was made in my hometown Montreal. My dream of working in that field was more than ever possible. As soon as I got my degree in 1996, I took a specialize course in 3D animation at the NAD Centre. Once I finished, I got a job at Hybride in 1997 as a 3D animator. It’s been 10 years now.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
For what I remember, I use to play guitar, mountain bike and snowboard. But now I have a 4 year old son and I’m trying to spend most of my spare time with him and my wife. So the correct answer would be I play with Legos and Transformers and make up my time to not miss the incredible kids channel shows.

Tell us about your responsibilities on 300 as Lighting and Texturing Supervisor
As the Textures and Lighting lead, I have to evaluate the complexity of each sequence with the supervisors. I establish procedures to speed up the artist’s work which includes constant R&D; on new techniques to texture and light scenes. I make sure the outputs of my team suit the compositors needs. I guide my colleagues technically as to follow the art direction and to keep the composition in place. And finally, I take care of delivering some of the more complex shots.

What were the biggest challenges in order to deliver the desired look on this production?
We had to transform the very stylistic look of the renowned American comic book author into film: silhouetted images, painted skies with brush-stroke effects, contrasting colors, charcoal blacks, and so on. For the environments created, each structure had to be an obvious part of Frank Miller surreal world before to be photo reel. The Hot Gates walls and skies were probably the most important aspect to define before to start the production. It was crucial that each vendor respects the exact same look. In order to help that process we received detailed documentation and concept arts about the look we had to achieve.

The wolf is another good example of the style they were looking for: a surreal beast in a photo real environment developed with an artistic touch. In the graphic novel, the wolf appears only as a huge black silhouette with red eyes. We kept those elements and integrated skin, muscles and hair to go a few steps closer to the real world.

jo5

What custom tools or techniques were used especially in the area of lighting?
Many lighting techniques were used depending on the location. At first, we had to rely on precise layouts. Once we had the client approbation and depending on the amount of shots, we chose to move forward with regular Textures and Lighting techniques or Matte paintings.

We created high dynamic range environments for each sets. The effort on textures was critical to accomplish the movie style. In fact, we had to reduce the contrast levels on the 3D side to bring them back with the live footage on the final comp. The combination of flat textures with dynamic lighting helped us deliver images that allowed great flexibility for extensive color correct sessions.

The textures created where either a mixture of procedurals done in Dark Tree called within XSI or a good use of quality pictures taken from the actual set.
The matte paintings were developed over shaded scenes lit using final gathering or light rigs.

For many locations, specific light rigs where built at a very early stage and we used internal scripts to automate the creations of the passes required by the compositing department.

What kind of inspirations were used to inspire the artists for this kind of look besides the comic book?
Sin City and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow were without a doubt a major influence because they allowed us to work on very stylized movies that were entirely shot on green screen. We acquired a great confidence and expertise in that kind of movie.

One of the biggest sources of inspiration was the artwork sent by the production. It definitely captured the essence of the comic book and gave us a great head start.
The detailed and very technical documents done from the art department were essential to define properly each location and to develop the appropriate look for the backgrounds and skies. Each section was defined by a specific color palette to the great pleasure of the artists.

jo4

How long was the production schedule for the team at Hybride?
Hybride produced 540 visual effect shots for a total of 45 minutes. A total of 95 Hybride employees worked on the project for 16 months. We were 45 in the 3d department, 35 in the compositing department and 15 in administration and technical support.

We had a wide variety of shots to do:

  • Animation: wolf, warriors (Spartans, Persians, Free Greeks, Immortals), troops animation (thousands of warriors), whip, banners, swords, weapons, spears, axes, etc…
  • Virtual Environments: backgrounds for all of our scenes, mountains, cliffs, plains, valleys, winter sceneries, oceans, skies (clouds, lightning, moon), etc.
  • Particles: Snow, embers, fire, rain, blood, smoke, dust, dirt.

Was the film entire shot in blue screen or to what extent is the film life action and to what extent cg?
Having shot the film entirely on a blue-screen background, each step involved in post-production required a considerable amount of work. The live footage included the heros and the ground. Everything else was CG.

jo3
How was the processing of the life action footage to not only blend with the cg elements but at the same time look stylized?
We had to start by matching the 3d environment to the live footage to pretend they were shot simultaneously. Once the integration done, we stylized the whole image with the help of different passes (mats, depth fading, etc…). The extensive use of color correct definitely eased the integration of the live footage with CG elements.

How was XSI used in this production? 
XSI was used to generate almost every 3d elements. The software was very efficient to create complex environments, to do character animation and to manage army scenes with more than a 100 000 soldiers.

jo2
Which features were especially useful?
The ability to built solid output pipelines with the creations of customizable passes was without any question a very important Feature in XSI.

These Features where also very usefull:
1. GATOR to transfers any surface attributes
2. Ultimapper to grab normal maps and occlusion maps.
3. The Render Tree to build complex shaders
4. The Fxtree to do practically everything with image clips.

Which areas of the software should be improved?
The procedurals could be improved in XSI. More than ever, we are asked to generate full cg environments and the usage of procedurals is very efficient for that need. It would also be nice to improve the Texture Editor with some tools such as Uv Layout’s flatten tool and Deep Uv’s Relax tool. And since Pixologic’s Zbrush is now used everywhere, it would be interesting to include a Ztool reader in XSI. That would allow to interactively change the meshes resolution in a different way than with referenced models.

jo6
Do you think we will see more movies in the future like this and what possibilities do you see in this kind of filmmaking?
More movies are shot entirely on green screen. The director can do what he wants with each shot. I think this way of filming will become a standard. The big advantage consists in the infinite freedom of creativity that last long after the shooting is achieved. For 300, the graphic quality quickly takes over the complex and technical aspect to generate the images. This allows the audience to plunge in Frank Miller’s fantasy world. It is obvious that a new trend of film is emerging, a trend that joins more than ever the art of telling a story with the art of drawing that story.

Is there anything you would like to say to the rest of the cg community?
Nothing is more thrilling than working in a field in constant explosion. Not evolution, explosion. Each year, I’m overwhelmed by the images produced by the movie and the game industry. All technical borders are falling apart. The tools are more efficient and the artists more talented. There is no doubt that everything that made this profession exciting ten years ago is true more than ever and I’m delighted to be part of it.

 

Hybride near Montreal, Canada.


 

Friday Flashback #322


The release of the movie Jurassic Park, the video game Virtua Fighter and the launch of the software Face Robot are three particularly significant events in the history of Softimage, says its vice president and general manager, Marc Stevens.

Softimage – Des dinosaures de Jurassic Park aux castors Jules et Bertrand

L’entreprise fondée par Daniel Langlois cherche à créer des logiciels conviviaux pour les artistes

29 novembre 2006 |Brigitte Saint-Pierre | Cinéma
Jurassic Park, Titanic, The Matrix, Happy Feet: tous des films pour lesquels un logiciel de Softimage a été mis à contribution. Appartenant à des intérêts états-uniens depuis 12 ans, l’entreprise fondée par Daniel Langlois en 1986 conserve néanmoins son bureau principal à Montréal.

La sortie du film Jurassic Park, celle du jeu vidéo Virtua Fighter et le lancement du logiciel Face Robot sont trois événements particulièrement marquants de l’histoire de Softimage, mentionne son vice-président et directeur général, Marc Stevens.

Softimage franchit le cap de la vingtaine cette année et a toujours pignon sur rue à Montréal, bien qu’elle appartienne à des intérêts états-uniens depuis 1994. Montréal a joué et continue de jouer un rôle important dans le succès de Softimage, estime M. Stevens, qui affirme qu’on y trouve à la fois des personnes créatives de grand talent et d’autres qui maîtrisent très bien la technologie.

C’est en 1986 que l’entreprise voit le jour. Après avoir appris à opérer un système d’animation par ordinateur à l’Office national du film, Daniel Langlois fonde Softimage. Avec son équipe, il crée un logiciel d’animation 3D plus simple d’utilisation. Cette volonté de fournir des outils aux artistes et de leur permettre de se concentrer sur leur art sans devoir consacrer trop de temps à la maîtrise de la technologie informatique est constante dans l’histoire de Softimage et se manifeste toujours aujourd’hui.

En 1993, Steven Spielberg a recours au logiciel de l’entreprise pour donner vie aux dinosaures du film Jurassic Park. «C’était vraiment la première fois que quelque chose comme ça était fait. Cela a réellement lancé la vague de tous ces effets spéciaux et ces personnages animés que l’on voit dans les films aujourd’hui», affirme M. Stevens.

De Microsoft à Avid

L’année suivante, Softimage passe aux mains du géant Microsoft. L’entreprise dirigée par Bill Gates acquiert la compagnie québécoise, en échange de 130 millions $US en actions. Daniel Langlois reste toutefois à la barre de Softimage.

Softimage continue de développer des projets. Elle travaille par exemple en collaboration avec la compagnie Sega sur le jeu Virtua Fighter. La deuxième version de ce jeu voit le jour en 1995. «C’était le premier jeu vidéo qui mettait en scène des personnages aussi réalistes, des personnages en trois dimensions», dit le vice-président et directeur général de Softimage. Depuis lors, le nombre de jeux vidéo, leur qualité, le nombre de personnages qu’on y trouve et leur réalisme ont augmenté de façon importante.

En 1998, la compagnie Avid, reconnue pour ses logiciels de montage, acquiert à son tour Softimage. Le coût de la transaction? 285 millions $US. Daniel Langlois se retire alors des activités quotidiennes de l’entreprise qu’il a fondée. Il occupe néanmoins un siège au conseil d’administration d’Avid Technology, qu’il quitte en 2000.

Au moment de la transaction de 1998, Daniel Langlois déclare au Devoir que l’équipe de développement, comprenant quelque 300 employés, demeurera dans la métropole et que leur nombre devrait même augmenter avec l’arrivée de personnes venant de Boston. Huit ans plus tard, Softimage compte environ 250 employés, dont quelque 200 à Montréal, dans les bureaux de l’entreprise, boulevard Saint-Laurent.

L’industrie a évolué avec les années et le prix des logiciels d’animation 3D a chuté. Un tel logiciel, qui pouvait coûter plus de 100 000 $ dans les débuts de l’entreprise, vaut moins de 8000 $ aujourd’hui. Les versions «advanced», «essentials» et «foundation» du logiciel XSI de Softimage se vendent à l’heure actuelle respectivement environ 7925 $, 2260 $ et 560 $.

Au cours des années, Softimage a cherché à démocratiser la technologie qu’elle a développée. Elle tente entre autres de rendre ses logiciels accessibles au monde de l’éducation, de l’école secondaire à l’université. Elle offre ses produits à prix réduits aux institutions d’enseignement, a mis au point du matériel didactique et créé un processus de certification pour les centres de formation et les instructeurs. «Nous voulons permettre à plus de personnes de se familiariser avec l’utilisation des logiciels d’animation 3D», dit Marc Stevens.

Perspectives d’avenir

Softimage offre par ailleurs toujours des logiciels destinés aux professionnels des milieux du cinéma, des jeux vidéo et des publicités télévisées, et les acteurs de ces industries continuent d’y faire appel. La technologie de Softimage a par exemple été mise à contribution pour le film Happy Feet actuellement à l’affiche, ainsi que pour les publicités télévisées de la compagnie Bell mettant en scène les castors Jules et Bertrand.

La division d’Avid continue aussi d’offrir de nouveaux produits. Cette année, elle a lancé le logiciel d’animation faciale Face Robot. «Les personnages dans les jeux vidéo deviennent de plus en plus intéressants, mais leurs visages [et leurs expressions faciales] continuent de ne pas être réalistes. C’est une chose à laquelle nous accordons beaucoup d’attention en tant qu’êtres humains. Cela peut faire la différence entre une bonne et une mauvaise performance à l’écran ou une bonne ou une mauvaise expérience de jeu. Donc, nous avons vraiment tenté de créer un logiciel qui permette à l’artiste de mieux animer les visages des personnages 3D dans les jeux vidéo, dans les films et dans les publicités télévisées», mentionne le vice-président et directeur général de Softimage.

Le développement actuel des jeux vidéo offre par ailleurs des perspectives intéressantes pour Softimage, selon M. Stevens. «Avec la nouvelle génération de consoles de jeux vidéo, les attentes sont beaucoup plus élevées en ce qui concerne la qualité de l’environnement et des personnages des jeux. Je crois que nous avons une technologie [qui permettra de répondre à ces attentes]», dit-il.

Quelles sont les pistes de développement pour l’avenir? Si beaucoup de chemin a été parcouru depuis 20 ans, les techniques d’animation peuvent encore être améliorées, mentionne le vice-président et directeur général de Softimage. La division d’Avid cherchera à offrir des outils permettant d’effectuer des animations 3D d’une plus grande qualité en moins de temps et de créer des personnages 3D animés de façon encore plus réaliste.