FiLMBOX’s real-time authoring capability on the Mac is identical to the support offered all other platforms. We are very excited and pleased with the performance results that we have witnessed when compared to equivalent system configurations and graphic card vendors on other platforms.
—Sam Nelson

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Q&A JULY 17 , 2001
Motion on the Mac

Five questions with Kaydara FiLMBOX Product Manager Sam Nelson

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

This month Kaydara will bring its FiLMBOX line of products to the Mac OS X platform. Previously available for SGI Irix, Red Hat Linux and Windows NT, FiLMBOX is a suite of tools that provide a hub for creative production. It's a real-time 3D content authoring and delivery tool, complete with a character engine and animation tools. It integrates character animation, live motion capture, camera tracking and audio and video tools in a single, unified authoring environment. And, as a little added bonus, it lets you commingle all of these elements in real time.

The news in and of itself is significant for two reasons. First, it's always good to see non-Mac developers investing in the platform and making their wonderful creative tools available to us. Porting applications is not an easy thing; it takes time and money that could easily be spent in other areas. And there's always the risk that the effort will have been wasted. Sure, research goes into it before any moves are made, but, in the end, it's faith in the platform and its users that drives a company to expand its offerings into new territories.

Second, there's nothing like it on the Mac platform right now. You just simply can't do this kind of work on the Mac, despite the fact that the Macintosh platform dominates creative production. So, for this reason, Kaydara's innovative technologies will bring welcome relief to those who need to work with a multitude of media on high-end projects.

The added benefit is that, what with FiLMBOX popular with the motion capture device manufacturers, and what with Kaydara providing its OpenReality SDK for the Mac, we just might be seeing some new motion capture devices making their way into our neck of the computing woods. And, on the software side, NewTek has announced support for Kaydara's FBX, the file format used natively in FiLMBOX.

We had a chance to interview Kaydara's FiLMBOX product manager, Sam Nelson, about these issues and the future of digital media production on the Mac. Here's what Sam had to say.

Creative Mac FiLMBOX is obviously a well known tool for 3D artists on other platforms. What made you decide to bring it to Mac OS X, as opposed to a previous Mac OS or no Mac version at all?

Sam Nelson We chose to develop for Mac OS X because with this release Apple brings the Macintosh platform to a new level of technical proficiency. With preemptive multitasking and virtual memory, technologies that are crucial for the execution of advanced 3D applications, Mac OS X is the first Mac operating system that meets the technical requirements of FiLMBOX’s real-time architecture.

CM What have been some of the development challenges on the Mac platform? Will there be total feature parity between all platforms, and will you bring all of the FiLMBOX components to the Mac platform? Will you support the same level of real-time on the Mac as on other platforms?

Nelson We encountered minor challenges that are not uncommon to developing for a new operating system. In the case of FiLMBOX, we had to invest significant resources in implementing the Mac OS X windowing system. Additionally, we had to ensure proper support for OpenGL viewing and audio support. The fact remains that FiLMBOX is, at the core, a C++-based architecture that provided us with the added flexibility to accomplish this task.

FiLMBOX will be available on the Mac platform in its entirety with the same full-featured product offering found on all other platforms. The video integration functionality that allows users to add a live video source within their 3D environment does require a combined video I/O board. We are optimistic that this technology will soon be available on the Mac platform.

FiLMBOX’s real-time authoring capability on the Mac is identical to the support offered all other platforms. We are very excited and pleased with the performance results that we have witnessed when compared to equivalent system configurations and graphic card vendors on other platforms.

CM Where do you envision the need for FiLMBOX on the Mac?

We foresee a need for FiLMBOX purely and simply because there is a well established and growing community of 3D artists on the Mac platform that need to generate an increasing amount of 3D-animated content for multiple purposes and for different media.

In general, 3D artists and animators need a cost-effective solution that favors content reuse, and ensures faster delivery of quality content. FiLMBOX’s real-time and cross-platform architecture provides the Mac user base with an established hub for acquiring 3D data whether it originates from external devices, 3D applications or content providers.

Nelson I know FiLMBOX supports a pretty large number of devices on other platforms. How well will FiLMBOX for the Mac play with third-party devices, especially in the motion capture arena?

FiLMBOX Mac OS X version is developed on the same open-architecture as its Windows and Unix counterparts, and therefore its ability to interface with peripheral devices should pose no barriers to hardware vendors who have migrated or are looking to jump to Mac.

Our OpenReality™ SDK currently provides all the necessary functions to complete implementation on the Mac platform. We are prepared to work closely with third party motion-capture hardware companies to provide new and equivalent motion-capture solutions for the Mac users.

CM How is the 3D content marketplace changing in terms of how artists work, and how is Kaydara looking to address the needs of today's content developers (especially in terms of operating in a networked environment with complex workflows across multiple platforms)?

Nelson The 3D content marketplace has witnessed not only the advent of the 1 GHz processor, but also the wide scale acceptance of 3D accelerated graphic cards. These new technological advances have also raised the minimum expectations for the quality of 3D content and the level of interactivity. Having said that, the ability to author and validate 3D animated content in real-time without the penalties of off-line processing is crucial to ensuring rapid delivery to market. In a creative process that requires a lot of trial and error, 3D artists don’t have the luxury to watch status bars as they ponder yet another design iteration.

Moreover, in a attempt to continuously push the envelop, to emulate the latest creative trend or to surpass the most recent technological milestone, content developers are still seeking out the best in all content-creation tools, in some cases opting for a single feature. The authoring environment for a single project is often comprised of various tools whether commercial or proprietary regardless of platform.

Kaydara’s approach towards the evolving needs of the 3D content marketplace is simple in many ways. For one, we continue to focus on the live and real-time aspects 3D character animation across the different market segments and applications, namely game development, film/TV, advertising, interactive content, and Internet industries. Also, we are continuing to provide an integrated pipeline for the hybrid production environment that is platform independent and can interface with as many 3D commercial applications as possible.

CM How is the need for 3D content changing? How prevalent is it now, and what do you envision for the near future?

Nelson The need for 3D content is changing in that there is a greater demand for rich interactive 3D content on the Web. An increasing number of game titles are being developed for the booming PC, online and console games markets. Likewise, 3D special effects and full-featured CG films are taking a more and more prominent place at the box office.

We envision that the need for 3D content will continue to grow, as will the expectation of audiences and consumers with regards to high-quality visual effects.

CM How do you see 3D developing on the Web?

Nelson Kaydara is focused on providing the enabling authoring technology for the efficient production of 3D content for the Web. While our business revolves around content creation, not the actual delivery, we are working closely with a number of streaming 3D vendors to enable FiLMBOX customers to re-purpose their data for episodic Web content production and Web performance. We believe that 3D will grow quickly as a pervasive media for interactive content, and that the Web will be a key medium for this.

The Mac OS X version of FiLMBOX is expected to debut very soon, in conjunction with the release of version 3.0 across all platforms. The first three products to be released include FiLMBOX animation, FiLMBOX motioncapture and FiLMBOX online. The price point for the tiered product offering on Mac ranges from $4,995 for FiLMBOX animation to $29,995 for the complete FiLMBOX online version. The Mac OS X prices are consistent with all other platforms including Windows, Irix and Linux.

For more information on FiLMBOX, visit http://www.kaydara.com.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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