AET at Siggraph

Los Angeles (CA) - Tom's Hardware Guide has established an ongoing relationship with Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET) at the Santa Monica College in the Los Angeles area. Brant Looney and Tim Ryan of AET's tech support staff kept a diary of what they saw at Siggraph and products they would love to get their hands on for use in AET's programs.

AET trains students to work in various sectors of the entertainment industry in such areas as game design, graphic design, visual effects, animation, post production and web design. All of these applications require high powered workstations outfitted with the latest 2D and 3D software and graphical input and output technologies. High speed networks support rendering farms of workstations that speed the creation of the kinds of complex graphics that AET students must produce for their courses.

Brant's sightings:

I stopped by the PixoLogic booth, to see them demo the new Z-brush upgrade, a modeling, texturing and painting software. It is out for a while now, but it is still im,pressive to see the enhancement to sculpting features that allow creating great detail and new functionality to aid in posing and rebuilding mesh topologies. However we wish that they had more staff on-hand to answer questions.

Alias' booth was buzzing, with around the clock demos of their new MAYA 7 and
MotionBuilder 7. Maya 7 has new fullbodyIK, unwrapUVs and tons of new tools. MotionBuilder7 has new rig extensions, constraints and can transfer between other 3D applications with ease.

Massive 2.0 is the premier 3D animation system for generating crowd-related visual effects for film and television. It's for people who want to film a stadium crowd scene but don't have the big bucks to hire 1500 extras and who do not want to use life-size cardboard cut outs. By using Massive 2.0, an animator or technical director can design various types of characters with a set of reactions to what is going on around them. Lord of the Rings used Massive software, for example.

My only two gripes about Massive 2.0 is that it is only available for Red Hat 7.3, 9.0, Fedora Core 2, and it is expensive at $18,000 plus $4000 per year for updates and support. When questioned about when a Windows version would be available, I was told "It's in the pipeline."

In Previous years, Siggraph, appeared to be more of a delight to the senses, with the sexier elements like Motion Capture, 3D scanning, and rapid pro-typing that was demonstrated prominently in the front spaces. This year a lot of this prime real estate was taken up by colleges and studios displaying nothing more than brochures and small monitors showing current work. Bring back the glitz!

Tim's favorites:

the addition of the Touch Strips and Express Keys on both sides of the monitor. Definitely worth checking this one out on their website.

The motion controller SpacePilot by 3D Connexion also caught my eye. This one took a little more getting used to. But soon I was enjoying the feel of the controls, and seeing the potential benefits of this tool.

The SpacePilot is more for the Maya/3Dmax user although there are a few features for Photoshop as well. This tool takes some of the stress off the hand using the mouse. The perspective cameras pan, zoom and rotate controls can now all be controlled by one hand. It also puts all your hotkeys within reach of that same hand without having to jump around the keyboard. Also adding the potential for an endless supply of hotkey sets which are displayed on an LCD. The device will set you back a hefty $500 and is only available for PC. I am looking to get a hold of this one for a test drive on a real project.

Number three on my list is the Claytools System by Sensable Technologies. This is a sculpting device for the 3D applications that includes both software and hardware. I did not get much of a chance to sit down with this impressive looking device. Their booth was packed with people who were equally interested in checking it out. One of the cool features of this tool is the fact that you can feel the surface of the Geometry you are sculpting. This feature can also be used to paint textures for displacement directly on to the model without fear of stretching. It also allows you to draw curves on the surface as if you were drawing on a real clay sculpture and then export those out to create a patch model in your 3D package. These are just a few of the benefits I saw at their booth. At around $2800, I am still not convinced that I would choose this over the $200 Zbrush software.