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Six Questions with NewTek President and CEO Jim Plant

By John Virata
NewTek in July named Jim Plant president and CEO. Plant is known in the NewTek community as the founding editor-in-chief of Avid, the Amiga-Video Journal and of Video Toaster User Magazine. He also oversaw the launch of Alpha Visual FX magazine, LightWave Pro and the Video Toaster User Expo. DMN senior producer John Virata discusses NewTek's products and the state of 3D with Plant.

DMN: Many in the 3D industry seem to think that the Web is the next market for 3D. When do you anticipate that market as being a viable medium for 3D?
JP: NewTek believes the web is one of many interesting potential growth segments for 3D content creation tools. While we are focused on delivering powerful tools for web 3D deployment, we are also looking at other promising areas such as print, game development and design. For instance, we've recently seen LightWave 3D used with great success in the print arena by Time Magazine. As far as 3D on the web is concerned, we think this market is very similar in terms of technical demands, to the real-time gaming arena. The two biggest problems we see for 3D on the web are a lack of standards and unclear consumer demand. This is a chicken-and-egg problem and it is not immediately clear which side will need to move first to create the sort of demand projected by the 3D tools companies. Recent technological contributions from Intel and Macromedia (Shockwave 3D) have provided a potential new standard for real-time web 3D. However, we believe there is still a disconnect between the markets. Most web developers are not yet fully up to speed with 3D content tools and 3D developers are not always well versed in the complexities of high end web development. With the introduction of Shockwave 3D integrated with Director we see the potential for positive change over the next 12 to 18 months. The other issue with web 3D is consumer demand. Despite the hoopla, there have been very few compelling examples of 3D on the web. We're very skeptical of the concept of virtual stores (in which one can freely move around in 3D environments) as the web's 3D killer app. We think it is more likely the initial demand for real time 3D will be driven by online gaming. Shockwave 3D can be considered a real time gaming engine. Because it is far cheaper than most commercial game engines, it will allow fledgling game developers to launch interactive games online. This also solves the distribution problem, which is a critical issue to aspiring game developers. At NewTek, our strategy is to provide as many people as possible with the most powerful 3D tools available, at the most reasonable price. With a powerful 3D application like LightWave 3D the options are limitless. We fully expect that our user base will find uses for LightWave on the web that have never even occurred to us. It is this form of individual innovation that we promote. As for a time line, we think it will be at least 12 to 18 months before the web becomes a major driver in the 3D content tools segment. The technology is already there, but it will take some time for the developers to grasp the tool set and then even more time for consumers to understand the utility and create demand.

DMN: How is NewTek responding to 3D on the Web? Will we see more collaboration with NewTek and other companies that are trying to make 3D on the web as pervasive as video?
JP: NewTek has always had an open standards policy. By this we mean that we have always provided a software developers kit (SDK) and formats online for free. This allows any company to easily support our formats natively. Also, because we are a native polygonal system it is easy to push data between LightWave and real-time web and gaming formats, as they also rely on polygonal data sets. We are currently working with many of the major players in the real time web 3D space. Our closest relationship is with Macromedia and we feel they are strongly positioned to become the standard in real time web 3D. The ubiquity of Shockwave could translate directly into a wide spread deployment of Shockwave 3D. Once consumers realize they are "3D-enabled" we believe they will begin to pro-actively seek more 3D web content. LightWave 3D is currently one of two applications to support model and animation export to this format, and we are the only company to provide this functionality on the Macintosh. It will be very difficult for 3D to become as pervasive as video. Fortunately, NewTek is one of the only companies that provides solutions for streaming real time 3D AND video to the internet.

DMN: The initial entry of LightWave on the Macintosh platform was challenging. The Mac in the past has traditionally been a strong platform for graphics arts and was often seen as an anemic platform for 3D animation. How have users of LightWave for Mac responded to the latest version?
JP: The initial launch of LightWave on the Macintosh was nearly 6 years ago. We are now on our 6th Mac revision for LightWave 3D, and have a great understanding of the Mac as a system, as well as a much closer relationship with Apple's technical teams. This has allowed us to deliver the most stable and powerful 3D application available to the Mac community. Many people are unaware that NewTek first ported LightWave to the Macintosh back in 1995, at a time when many companies were convinced that Apple was on its way out. Even in Apple's darkest days we believed in the Mac and the strength of its creative community and we are gratified to see that our belief in Apple was justified. Now, many other companies are jumping on the bandwagon. We welcome other 3D applications to the platform and believe this migration will help grow 3D awareness inside of Apple and in the user community in general.

DMN: Given the perceptions from PC users that megahertz is the number one factor in buying a creative workstation, has Apple delivered with the latest G4 models? And is LightWave taking full advantage of the hardware?
JP: The G4 chip is a very efficient and powerful chip indeed. While it lags behind in one area (mhz ratings,) it certainly does not lack for raw power. OS X is also helping to unleash the full potential of the G4 chip and technologies such as the Velocity Engine have not yet been fully tapped to this point. We continue to work on optimizing LightWave more fully for the G4 chip. Of course Apple has also shown a strong dedication to multi-processor computing, and OS X handles multiple CPUs very elegantly.

DMN: When will we see NewTek's Aura paint and effects application on the Mac and other platforms?
JP: There is currently no official announcement about moving Aura to multiple platforms.

DMN: How close is NewTek to delivering Video Toaster [2]?
JP: Well, we've been working on the Video Toaster [2] for years, and we are now down to the last few weeks of development. It's exciting to be at NewTek right now and to feel the return of the excitement we felt 10 years ago when the original Video Toaster was launched. I think Video Toaster [2] is going to knock your socks off.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
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