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Luxology Raises the Curtain

New company founded by Brad Peebler, Allen Hastings and Stuart Ferguson debuts at SIGGRAPH By Frank Moldstad

If it were anybody else making the offer, an invitation to see ?super secret new technology at an offsite SIGGRAPH event might be greeted with a yawn. But this was Luxology LLC, whose founders include Brad Peebler, Allen Hastings and Stuart Ferguson.

The trio rose to prominence in the 90s for their work on NewTeks LightWave 3D. Hastings created LightWave 3D in 1989, and is now Luxologys Chief Scientist. Ferguson, now Luxologys Chief Technology Officer, created LightWave's Modeler 3D and was behind much of the LightWave infrastructure. And Peebler, now Luxologys president, was NewTek's Vice President of 3D, and one of LightWaves most recognizable evangelists in the field. They left NewTek in 2001 to form Luxology, and a core group of LightWave programmers joined them.

At SIGGRAPH, Luxology bowed its first product, called modo (MSRP $895/introductory price $695). A cross-platform Mac and PC 3D modeling application that ships in September, modo was demonstrated at the Apple, AMD, ATI and PNY booths on the show floor. It includes both real-time subdivision surface and polygonal modeling tools, and is equally adept at sculpting organic and hard surfaces. It can be used on both low-res meshes and high-res models, and the results can be exported to most 3D animation packages. One of modos most intriguing features is a highly flexible interface that can be customized just about any way a user wants to work.

Brad Peebler (front) at the Museum of Neon Art
But it was offsite at LAs Museum of Neon Art  where Luxology revealed the potential of the engine behind modo, and a glimpse at whats coming next. The event began with demo artists using Apple G5 workstations to show various modeling tricks with modo, against the backdrop of the museums elaborate neon sculptures. Peebler led a group of writers from station to station, culminating in front of a closed door, where he introduced Hastings and Ferguson.

Then with a flourish, they opened the door and revealed the super secret technology: a poweful 3D operating system code-named Nexus. It was created by Ferguson as a flexible OS for engineers to work within and build upon. Nexus can be used to create animation programs or any other applications the developers choose to integrate into it, housing different collections of Viewports in a modular fashion.

Hastings demonstrated the capabilities of the Nexus environment, using it to interactively render 736 million polygons in a scene where the camera moved forward through a seemingly infinite field of multicolored 3D animated hippos while he changed colors on the fly.

?The demo were showing is based around 3D, because thats what we do, said Peebler.  ?But the Nexus architecture doesnt consider any data any different than any other data. Its less a 3D system than a next-generation object-oriented approach to development.

modo interface (click to enlarge)
The modular philosophy behind the Nexus OS is evident in the design of modo, which makes it simple for users to custom-design their workspace. Menus can be docked to the sides or the top, floated in the middle of the screen, or completely hidden. Viewports are also flexible   depending on the project and the user preference, there can be two, four, eight or whatever. For an ultra-clean approach, the interface can be set up with one Viewport and no menus, with quick access to more as theyre needed.

Another innovative feature in modo allows the creation of custom tools. Called Tool Composites, this makes it possible to apply modifiers to existing tools to form completely new tools tailored to a users workflow. These custom tools can then be added to existing tool menus, or new menus can be created.

Hundreds of production-ready tools are included with modo. For instance, theres an interesting tool called Sketch Extrude that can be used to extrude selected polygons by drawing the extrude path in the Viewport. Another precision toolset is Edge Tools, a range of  tools for adjusting edges on specific portions of a model. These include Edge Bevel, Edge Slice, Edge Loop Selection and Edge Ring Selection.

modos Advanced Subdivision Surfaces support allows the use of n-gons -- polygons with more than four vertices. The Advanced Subdivision Surfaces also permit edge creasing through subdivision weights, and smooth resolution of complex topology.

Examples created using Morph Maps
Other tools are designed to streamline modeling procedures, or encourage spontaneous experimentation. One called Morph Maps makes it easier to create alternate positions for user-determined vertices in a mesh, employing 3D vertex maps that allow a base model to be altered. Using this, an artist can quickly create multiple versions of a characters expressions. The Morph Maps are embedded, so edits can be made to the base mesh without changing the morph shapes.

Those who get too carried away with experimentation can open modos Command History, a list of every command used during the session. Plus, Command History is editable, allowing a user to do things such as drag the list to Undo/Redo, map commands to keystrokes, or re-order commands.

All in all, between modo and the Nexus OS, Luxology made an auspicious debut for a new company, which maybe isnt surprising considering the pedigrees of its founders. They have established a path for development of future new products in Nexus, and the coders are busily engaged in that pursuit. Peebler promises ?an exciting announcement in early 05. But thats all he can say about it  -- for now.


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Related Keywords:Luxology, Brad Peebler, Allen Hastings, Stuart Ferguson, LightWave 3D, modo

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