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SIGGRAPH 3D Animation Roundup

Upgrades to nearly every professional 3D application were on display in LA By Frank Moldstad

Animators can look forward to improved modeling, rendering, character animation and workflow tools that were displayed by 3D application developers at the SIGGRAPH 2005 convention. New versions of every major professional 3D software application were being shown, including Maya 7, SOFTIMAGE|XSI 5, MotionBuilder 7, Cinema 4D 9.5, 3ds Max 8, LightWave 9 and Houdini 8. Plus, Luxology, developer of the modo modeler, revealed that it has a 3D animation application in the works.

Several packages are now 64-bit compatible, including SOFTIMAGE XSI v. 5.0, Cinema 4D 9.5 and LightWave 8.5, while Houdini already supports 64-bit Windows and Linux. Technology previews were also shown of 64-bit versions of Maya and 3ds Max.

But whether users are ready for 64-bit or not, there are a host of new features they can take advantage of in the meantime. Heres a roundup of the highlights of the various 3D applications being shown in Los Angeles.

Maxon Computer
Cinema 4D version 9.5
Maxon Computer has beefed up the lighting, rendering and workflow features of Cinema 3D 9.5, which will be available (along with BodyPaint 3D R2.5) in September 2005. Version 9.5 offers a streamlined process for setting up lights, and the lights can now be tailored to any desired shape. For realistic-looking scenes, area lights and area shadows now render up to four times faster.

Version 9.5 lets users output images in 32-bit /channel color depth as HDRI or OpenEXR, and includes the ability to directly output multipass renderings as compositing files for Shake. Plus, the Baker has been reworked for faster creation of textures, normal maps and UVs.

The Advanced Render module has several new features, including Ambient Occlusion, for the quick creation and rendering of realistic shadows. Ambient Occlusion can be either rendered or baked as a texture. Another new feature is SKY, a versatile tool for the creation of  atmospherics.

Workflow enhancements include a new Content Browser for convenient access to projects and presets, which can reside either locally or on a server. Also, a new full screen mode lets the workspace be quickly adjusted to its maximum size.

Animation clips can be loaded in to the Motion Mixer for non-linear animation editing.
3ds Max 8

Key upgrades in Autodesks 3ds Max 8  include character animation upgrades, advanced modeling and texturing, a more comprehensive development framework and complex data and asset management tools. Version 8 is slated for fourth quarter 2005 release.

The character development tools in 3ds Max 8 have been significantly overhauled. With the former Character Studio plugin now completely integrated into 3ds Max, BiPed and other character tools are now simply features in the application. The character animation toolset of version 8 has new advanced rigging tools, a redesigned Motion Mixer and non-linear animation features called Motion Retargeting. The new Motion Mixer allows animations or motions of any type to be mixed together. The mixing functionality includes time stretch, editing, trimming and transitions, and it supports all types of animation not just character and biped.

Also, Cloth and Hair and Fur tools will be included as part of 3ds Max 8. These were previously available to 3ds Max users via Autodesk Subscription. Cloth allows animators to convert modeled geometry to simulated cloth and design clothing patterns. Hair and Fur, based on Joe Alters Shave and a Haircut, includes a Brush tool for shaping various contours, and support for clumping and frizz textures. It also permits instanced geometry to be used as individual hairs for the creation of forests, fields and landscapes.

A new UV pelt mapping procedure promises much faster creation of texture maps. Users can define seams on a model and unfold the geometry to those seams. It is not necessary to rebuild the seams. Also, new Relax methods are designed to help reduce mapping distortion by matching an objects UV to its geometry. Version 8 also includes DirectX and .fx support, making it possible to create real-time shaders in the Max Viewport.

This release will also introduce a new XML-based motion data file format called .XAF. An open standard developed by Autodesk, it enables Max to load and save animation data and to load map or retarget it onto other characters. It can also be used to transfer motion not derived from characters.

Version 8 will address a variety of scalability, workflow and collaboration issues with a new Complex Data management toolset. In addition to new abilities for manipulating large datasets, 3ds Max 8 will connect directly to various asset management systems, including Autodesk Vault. 

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Related Keywords:SIGGRAPH, 3D software, Maya 7, SOFTIMAGE|XSI v. 5.0, MotionBuilder 7, Cinema 4D 9.5, 3ds Max 8, LightWave 9, Houdini 8


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