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Animation Master Wows NAB 2005

Oldest PC animation software still amazing, runs on Mac, too By Peter May

(4/26/05) ?Seen anything thats totally blown you away? Thats always the question at NAB and the first thing my buddy Frank asked when we ran into each other on day three.

?Not totally, I said. Id been so focused on my appointments I really hadnt had the chance to explore. Id visited the big guys, companies massive enough to have their own gravity, drawing crowds by force of name. Usually the things that totally blow you away come from little guys in little booths, overwhelmed by show-goers spilling out into the aisles. Thats where you want to stop.

?You?

?Oh yeah! Animation Master. I watched the demo and bought it on the spot.
Frank was jazzed and the fact that we couldnt find it on the show map wasnt going to stop him from spreading the passion.

?Cmon, I think I can lead you there.

The reason we couldnt find Animation Master on the map was its listed under the company name Hash, Inc., named for its founder and the author of this little piece of magic, Martin Hash. Once we got close, the location was obvious. Hash was packing them in.

?It always feels good, Ken Baer, Hashs Director of Marketing confirms. ?Pretty much any show we go to we get good crowds and we do a lot of shows forty to fifty per year. From where Ken and I stood talking, we could see another crowd gathering.

The Animation Master demo artist at NAB was a fellow named Greg Rostami (see graphic above). Gregs a virtuoso with the software. He starts by creating an object from scratch. Its a simple object a vase created from a path and given three dimensions with the lathe function. He applies textures, picture file appliques, and runs through a series of exercises showing how easily the vase can be molded and distorted. In another flurry of rapid mouse moves he gives the vessel structure and joints by adding ?bones. Finally, he grabs the vase by its lip and drags it side to side, recording the limits of its movement. Less than two minutes into this magic show, Gregs got an anthropomorphic vase, chock full of personality, bowing, bobbing and glancing side to side, almost as if its saying, ?Doesnt this little prestidigitation deserve a little applause? 

Greg is clearly pleased with the crowds reaction though he never breaks the stride of a constant, practiced patter that would make Ron Popeil proud.

?Hes good, I observe.

Ken nods appreciatively. ?Gregs an amateur magician, he offers, conjuring Clarkes third law for me ?Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Back in 1987, $250,000 Silicon Graphics workstations were just modelers, creeping along at a glacial clock speed of 10MHz. Amiga, the $1500 desktop Martin Hash chose to employ, lagged even farther behind at a mere 7MHz. Propelled by his life-long interest in animation and determined to pursue his dream of providing affordable storytelling tools to artists, Hash was forced to think outside the polygon. Breaking with other modeling pioneers, he felt it just took too many polygons to define smooth, organic shapes. Instead, Hash took a different path, ultimately leading Hash Inc. to become the first company to employ the unique technology called spline-mesh theory to bring 3D character animation to the desktop computer. Over the years, Hash, Inc. has continued to add function and efficiency to the program, for the most part equaling or even besting other animation programs costing thousands more.  Having written the core modeling, animation, and rendering technologies used in Animation Master, Martin Hash was named one of the ?15 Top Computer Graphic Pioneers by Animation Magazine in 2000. Animation Master remains a credit to its family tree, appearing in every branch of the animation industry, from TV spots to feature films to games.

(Click graphic for enlargement)

Gregs eighteen years demonstrating this software shows. He jumps to a library of characters included with the software and chooses the ?fat guy, Homer Simpson in all but the name. Greg grabs the fat guys right leg and positions it, easily bending at the knee and ankle, foot flexing at the arch. He positions the right arm, left leg and arm just as easily. Using a function called ?Paste Mirrored, hes able to copy the movements from the fat guys right side and paste it to the fat guys left side. In Animation Master actions can be copied, pasted and saved to be used again (now a common concept that its predecessor Animation Apprentice introduced) and while users are free to create any actions imaginable, a sizable archive of prebuilt actions are included in the box. Greg finishes by adding a time dimension to the fat guys steps, a stride length so his feet dont slip, then sends him on his way. Again, within a minute or two we are watching an animated figure out for a stroll. Because the fat guy is a fully-realized 3D model, were able to circle the fat guy in space, watching from any distance and any angle, above or below. Not only can he show the animation from any camera POV, he can work from the cameras POV. You might be thinking that a 3D Homer just doesnt look right. Well, theyve taken care of that for you too. Theres a ?Cartoon Look function that automatically smoothes out color areas and outlines them yielding a convincing cell or anime look. 

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Related Keywords:NAB, Peter May, Animation Master, software, hash, bones, Martin Hash,


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