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Entries From August 2006

August 27, 2006

MINI Takes The States

Filed under Celebrity, MINI, Photos


Today I drove to Wichita Falls to meet up with the MINI Takes the States (MTTS) convoy. I was meeting my fellow MINI owner/buddy Steve and his kid Oliver who left with the MTTS convoy out of Amarillo.

We wanted to meet up for a quick lunch so that we could get back on the road. I found a Wendy's with several MINI's parked in front. I called Steve and told him where to meet me and then I went inside to talk to the MINI owners.

It is easy to find people involved in the MTTS...everybody that registered has a red band on their wrists. I found a table of four people with the red bands on their wrists.

MINI owners are abnormally enthusiastic about their cars. Striking up a conversation is *not* a problem...just ask them about their cars and they won't stop talking.

I walked over to talk to the group with the red wrist bands to say howdy. I asked them if they were involved in MTTS. The response I got was a bit like "Flounder" in Animal House when he asked, "You guys playing cards?"...stares and dead silence. It felt like they were expecting me to ask for money or something.

One girl in the group spoke up after bit and told me they were from New Jersey and they were doing the whole trip, from the West Coast to the East Coast. I said, "You guys are hardcore!" and I left them alone.

Later that night, MINI hosted a party at the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum in Dallas. After a couple of comedians performed, some of the people behind MINI took the stage to welcome and thank everybody. One of the people that took the stage was Trudy Hardy, the marketing manager for MINI USA. Trudy was the girl I tried to talk to at lunch! Here is an interview Trudy did recently with BusinessWeek.

I *had* to confront Trudy about our awkward lunch time chat. I found her mingling in the crowd. I said, "you were the girl at Wendy's!" She smiled and said, "Yeah, I try to keep a low profile." It worked! I had no idea who she was until she was introduced on stage. That explains why these MINI owners at lunch weren't acting like MINI owners...they were trying to play it cool (although it came off as despondent...need to work on that guys!)

I asked Trudy if I could get a photo with her and she obliged me. Thanks Trudy...you are awesome!

I have a *bunch* more photos to put up from the event. Tomorrow we ship off for Memphis at 8am. Off to bed!

August 23, 2006

Walking Tour of Boston

Filed under Photos, Travel

Here are some photos from my trip to Boston. I spent a day walking around the city and taking in the sights with my buddy John Verostek as my guide.

August 20, 2006

Ambient Occlusion

Filed under 3D, Maya

Ambient Occlusion (AO) is a trendy shading method for 3D graphics. It is useful for showing off geometric detail. Most AO renders are a single color, usually white, with no texture. AO is a simplification of global illumination (GI). GI can be very time consuming, whereas AO is relatively quick. Here are a bunch of AO examples. Besides simulating the ambient shadows from GI, AO is also used for "rust shaders" and "dust shaders" since AO is darkest in crevices, where rust and dust are the most likely to exist.

I was using Maya 6.0 which did not have built-in support for AO. I was considering creating my own AO shader for Maya 6.0, but decided instead to just upgrade Maya. Now I'm running Maya 7.0 (with 8.0 on the way).

Maya's AO is accessed as a Mental Ray shader. To do an AO render, create an ambient occlusion texture (Maya->Window->Rendering Editors->HyperShade...->Create->Mental Ray Textures->Mib_amb_occlusion) and drag it with the middle mouse button and drop it on the object you want to render. The Connection Editor will pop up to ask you how to connect the Mib_amb_occlusion to the object. Select the "OutValue" of the Mib_amb_occlusion and the "Surface Shader" of the object. When you render, make sure you choose "mental ray" as the renderer to see the results.


Here are some pics of the window I did for the Bank of America Plaza. This picture is from below looking up at the window.






From the side.








I need to place those windows on the building. First I tried duplicating the window with an offset, which was very time consuming and left me thinking there has to be a better way.

Next I found a plug-in in Maya called "geometryPaint." To use geometryPaint, you pick an object to paint with and then use the "Artisan Brush" to paint the geometry on another object. It seems like this would work well, but I ran into a problem. I set the brush to paint my window at every vertex I touch. For interior windows this is fine, but windows on the edge are a problem. The brush uses the normal of the vertex to determine the orientation of the window. The normals for the interior vertices are correct. The normal for vertices on the edge are shared by two sides, so the brush averages the normals. This gives you windows at an angle...which is not what I want.

I could probably just paint the whole model and then go back and rotate the edge window correctly, but I'm going to try another approach...MEL (Maya Embedded Language) scripting.

August 15, 2006

Blog Posting

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

I normally use Movable Type's default web browser interface for posting. It is very simple...just a text field that takes HTML tags.

Posting via tags is a good skill to have. Many web sites (like MySpace) allow you to use HTML tags to spruce up a comment or an email. If it wasn't for my posts on MT, I probably wouldn't have the HTML tags memorized like I do now.

That said, posting via HTML tags is tedious...and I think I may have found my new favorite way to post to my blog.

Microsoft recently released a free beta of a blog posting program called "Windows Live Writer."

Writer is like a specialized version of Word designed for blogging. It loads the stylesheet from your blog so your new posts have the same look as when the post is published on your blog.

Since Writer runs locally on your computer, it is very fast and responsive. It has a nice spell checker, which I absolutely depend on. You can easily add photos and Writer will automatically upload them when you are finished and ready to publish to your blog.

Writer has an SDK so more features will (hopefully) be created. There is already a Flickr plugin for Writer to make integrating photos from Flickr into a blog easier.

Even though this software is beta, it is very refined and usable. I did notice a bug once with a photo showing up in the background where it could not be deleted. I modified the view a couple of times (from normal to web layout) and the background photo disappeared on its own.

I started using Writer with my previous post, and plan on using it going forward.

Best Movie of The Summer

Filed under Movies, Reviews

 I *love* movies. However, this summer has been a disappointment. I haven't seen a summer movie that I *really* enjoyed...until tonight. The movie is called "Little Miss Sunshine." The title sounds like it is a chick flick, but it is not. I honestly thought it was going to be a girly movie and I was going to be bored out of my mind.

On the contrary, this is a very funny movie. It has the same feel as the movie "Sideways", but I liked this one better.

The movie is about a VW bus trip from New Mexico to Redondo Beach, CA for a kids beauty pageant. Don't let the plot scare you away...this is a good film.

Great dialog, great acting, and odd situations make this a fun movie.

This is a dark comedy. There are several uncomfortable moments that make you want to cringe and also make you laugh nervously (am I supposed to be laughing at this?).

Well done! Highly recommended.

August 13, 2006

Must-Have Utility: FinePrint

Filed under Reviews, Software

This is a utility that I can't live without. It is called FinePrint. FinePrint is a "virtual printer." You setup FinePrint as your default printer and then FinePrint will send the documents to your real printer.

Probably the best reason to use FinePrint is you get a print preview before you print. Some applications have a print preview option, but most don't. With FinePrint, you *always* get a print preview. The print preview can save a lot of wasted paper by showing you if a document is going to fit on a page or if it is going to print too much or too little information.

Double-Sided printing! FinePrint will turn *any* printer into a double sided printer. If your printer doesn't come with support for double-sided printing, FinePrint will print one side and then ask you to flip the pages and reinsert them into the printer to get printing on both sides.

Print multiple pages on a single sheet. FinePrint has options for 1, 2, 4, and 8 pages on a single printed sheet. Add double-sided printing and you can turn 16 pages into a single sheet of paper.

A trial version is available for free that prints a small banner on each page. FinePrint costs $49.95. I've used this for about 3 years and depend on it. Highly recommended.

August 12, 2006

Placing Windows

Filed under 3D, Architecture, Maya

In the picture above you can see one window (upper center) placed on the building.

I used a lattice (Maya->Animation->Deform->Create Lattice) to make the window fit into the window rectangle on the building. I had some problems when I was trying to snap to vertex since there were so many vertices. I found that I could simplify the scene and then moving the lattice became trivial. I added 4 "locators" (Maya->Create->Locator) and placed them in the 4 corners of the destination of the window. A locator is just a vertex place holder. With the locators in place, I could hide the entire building model and just use the locators. Next, I hid the window geometry and just used the lattice cube. Instead of working with tens of thousands of vertices and struggling to get the right vertex in the right location, I only had to work with 12. MUCH easier and a big time saver.

One window down, thousands more to go. I started using the duplicate command with and offset (Maya->Edit->Duplicate) to position windows. There were two problems with this...it is *very* tedious* to have to type in all the offsets to place a windows and my system started to grind to a halt when I added about 20 floors of windows.

I decided to stop and try a different approach. My new plan to address the placement issue is to use a script plug-in that comes with Maya called "geometryPaint". It sounds like I could describe how windows are spaced on a grid, make the building paintable, and then just scribble on the building until it is covered in windows. There is no documentation for this script as far as I can tell, so I'll need to do some experimenting and digging on the net.

I believe I already have a good solution for the performance issues as I add many windows. In the original window file, I created a 4 vertex plane that represents the window and has the same dimensions as the window. I put both the high resolution window (the original) and the low resolution window (4 vertex plane) in a LOD group (Maya->Edit->Level of Detail->Group). For the LOD group, you can choose to let the distance from the camera determine which model is used or you can set it manually. While I am modeling, I am going to manually set the low resolution window to show. When I am ready to render, I switch it so that the high resolution will show. Since all the windows are "references" (Maya->File->Create Reference....), I should only have to change the LOD group once and it will effect every window on the building model.

August 8, 2006

Visiting Fenway Park

Filed under Architecture, Photos

If you are going to do one thing when you visit Boston, what should it be? Apparently you go to a Red Sox game.

Baseball is...how should I put it...not my thing. I work next to Ameriquest Field and I haven't been to a Rangers game in at least 2 years. I have probably been to 5 MLB games my entire life.

That said, visiting Fenway Park is special. There is a personality there that comes with years of history.

My buddy John Verostek got us some SRO tickets. That means we had to stand and watch from the back, right? WRONG! We spent most of the time exploring and checking out every angle of the park (as my photos will attest).

The game was actually interesting for a non-baseball fan. The 9th inning was electric as the crowd tried to help get the tying run. Unfortunately it wasn't going to happen. The Red Sox lost in the end to the Cleveland Indians 6-7. Even though they lost, I was mucho impressed with Fenway Park, the Red Sox, and the Boston Fans. I'm glad I got to see it.

Here are my photos from the game.

August 7, 2006

Borat Movie

Filed under Funny


I love Borat...and now he has a movie coming out in November. I may have to see this day uno. Official movie website is here.


I learned about this from today's edition of The 9, item #3!


Filed under Photos, SIGGRAPH

Here are some photo I took while I was at SIGGRAPH Boston.

The photo above is from the SIGGRAPH Teapot Exhibit. I have the black teapot (SIGGRAPH 2006), gold teapot (SIGGRAPH 2005), and blue teapot (SIGGRAPH 2004).

SIGGRAPH Celebrity: Edwin Catmull

Filed under Celebrity, Photos, SIGGRAPH

While I was waiting to get my Walking Teapot swag from Pixar, I saw a computer graphics living legend....Edwin Catmull. Ed is the president of Pixar. He is responsible for several important innovations in computer graphics:

An interesting bit of trivia about Ed...he created the first 3D computer generated graphics in a film. A digitized version of Ed's left hand is used in the 1976 film Futureworld.

August 6, 2006

SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater Pre-show

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

I wrote a bit about the ET pre-show previously. I copied it below from Day 2 to save you the trouble of clicking on it...I know...soooo considerate. Here is the Etch-A-Sketch in action. Here is how we erase a giant Etch-A-Sketch.

My buddy John Verostek joined me for the Electronic Theater tonight. We were handed a paddle with a green side and a red side when we entered the theater. When you walked to your seat, you could see on the screen the layout of the theater with green and red lights representing every person holding up their paddle with the green/red side facing the screen. You could find your dot on the screen and flip your paddle to make your light turn red or green. We did some fun interactive games with this gimmick. The best was the giant Etch-A-Sketch projected on the screen. The audience was divided in half. One side controlled up/down by displaying red/green. The other half controlled left/right by displaying red/green. If the audience was split 50/50, then nothing would happen. Mostly green would move up, mostly red would move down. Same goes for the audience with the left/right controls. We were given the task to trace the outline of some shapes: a square, a triangle, a circle, and (of course) a teapot. And how do you clear an enormous Etch-A-Sketch? You shake it, of course! We all shook our paddles in unison and the screen would clear. It was a lot of fun...even though they had some problems registering our paddle information in the section I was sitting in.

The first game we played was bouncing a beach ball around. When the ball came to your area, you were supposed to flip the color of the paddle. Here is the video of it in action. We were still learning how it works at this point...so I think you'll only see one bounce and lots of "buzzing" (meaning you didn't bounce it in time).

Another game was pong with a dog as a ball. The goal was to hit the dog past the other teams "fence" so it would fight their cats. I did this game at a previous SIGGRAPH...I want to say New Orleans in 2000. Here is the video.

The 9

Filed under Reviews

My buddy John Verostek showed me "The 9" while I was in Boston...and now I'm hooked. It is a top 9 list of interesting items on the web, hosted by a really cute girl named Maria Sansone. It is a short (less than 5 minutes) TV show that is broadcast daily on the web by Yahoo. It is interesting how Maria knows the layout of the web page and points to the bottom to get you to vote for your favorite 9 or points to the bottom right to get you to propose #10. Also, you can jump ahead or back via the 9 chapter listings on the right side or go directly to the site of discussion by clicking on a link in the same area. Very slick and worth at least one viewing to see what it is about. It looks like the first episode was July 10, 2006...so this is fairly new. Fun!

SIGGRAPH Art Gallery

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

Here are a few videos I took in the Art Gallery.

This video is of a video wall that is made up of small channels from satellite TV. The camera turns whatever it sees into a mosaic of television channels on the video wall.

These next two are reprints from Day 2, but now I have the video.

This video is from a black room littered with thousands of receipts in piles all over the floor. Each receipt was a few lines of text from a personal ad (like, "I'm looking for a girl that...". Above, in the ceiling, is a printer that prints out a new phrase from a personal ad on the internet and lets it float to the ground every 12 seconds.

Another art piece used the same "magical oil" that was demonstrated at a previous SIGGRAPH. A metal spiral poked out of the oil. The oil would jump out of the pan and cover the spiral and create wild spiky effects...like it was alive...you'll just have to see the video...amazing. Here is the video.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: INVISIBLE ~The Shadow Chaser~

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This video is from a game where you chase around "invisible" goblins. The only way to find these goblins is to shine a flashlight on them and follow their shadows. Once you track a goblin down, you use a vacuum cleaner to remove it (of course).

As silly as this sounds, it is very well done. The flashlight takes a computer generated 3D goblin and figures out how to orient it and then removes light from the flashlight so that it creates a shadow that looks like it belongs to a little goblin. The flashlight can be oriented in anyway, and so the shadow has to be constantly recalculated.

When you watch this game, you forget about all the technical issues and just see shadows of goblins running around. Well done! Here's the SIGGRAPH writeup.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Deskrama

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This video shows a table with a blueprint of a house on it. You can grab a then LCD display and slide it over the blueprint to see the 3D version of the house. Unlike the previous post, you can rotate the screen and see cross sections from any angle. Here is the SIGGRAPH link.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Tablescape Plus: Upstanding Tiny Displays on Tabletop Display

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This video shows a table that has different fruit projected on it. You can grab one of the "tiny displays" and slide it over the fruit and see x-ray slices of the fruit. In another example, the tiny displays had pictures of animated people. If you slid one character near another, it would jump off one display to join the other character where they would bow to each other (I'm guessing this is of Japanese origin). The official account is here.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Submerging Technologies

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This video is of a tank of water with computer generated fish projected in the tank. When you touch the water, the fish react. In the video, I think I moved too fast or confused the fish, because they don't seem to be running from me poking the water. There weren't any directions...so maybe I wasn't supposed to poke the water.

This video is from another water exhibit in the same area. A fountain of water creates a water "shell". The shell shrinks as you put your hand closer and then expands when nobody is touching it.

Here is the official SIGGRAPH info.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Morphovision

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This one messes with your head. It is called "Morphovision." You see a model house in a glass box. The house starts to bend and warp...which makes you think you are looking at a video. But you are not! You can walk around the house and see it from any angle. Eventually, the trick is revealed...the house is spinning at a high rate of speed with a special strobe light that lights up different parts of the house so that it doesn't appear to be spinning. Here is my video clip of the demo...try to ignore the jibber-jabber from the boy geniuses. If you listen very carefully, you may be able to hear my eyes roll back into my head while I was filming.

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Overview Video

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

Here is a video clip of several of the interesting displays at Emerging Technologies. I have my own video of some of these...I'll post it later.

August 5, 2006

SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: True 3D Display Using Laser Plasma in the Air

Filed under SIGGRAPH, Video

This was one of the more impressive exhibits at SIGGRAPH. It was a very simple display, but it was 3D and it floated in the air. You could walk around the display and see it from any angle. In the video clip, you can hear the buzz from the electricity...it sounded like at any moment lightning bolts were going to shoot out and fry us all, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Here's a link to more information about how this "True 3D Display Using Laser Plasma in the Air" really works from the people that did it.

Panoramic View of the Show Floor

Filed under Photos, SIGGRAPH

Here are a couple of panoramic views of the show floor. The top pic is the view from the main entrance. The bottom is taken from the opposite side. Click on the photos to see all the detail (6k x 1.5k).

Google had a booth for the first time. They were showing off Google Earth and SketchUp. Microsoft had a tiny booth (big enough for 2 computer displays) to let people try out Vista and talk to their engineers. Intel, Apple and Dell were noticeably absent. Alias was sort of missing...they were bought by Autodesk. I would have thought Autodesk would have doubled the size of its booth and had dedicated stages for Maya and Max. Instead, they had a single large booth...about the same size as last year *before* they bought Alias. They had one stage that alternated between Max and Maya demos. The booth focused on the name "Autodesk"...no Maya or Max logos to be found. In fact, if you didn't know that Autodesk owns Max or Maya, you could easily have missed them at the show...which *never* would have happened in the past.

I made these these panoramic photos with my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33. I took three overlapping photos and fed them to image stitching software. When you make these, you should err on the side of using more overlap...like a third of the photo should be shared with the previous photo. That helps the stitching software line up the photos correctly. I used both Microsoft's Digital Imaging Suite 2006 and Adobe's Photoshop Elements 4.0. Microsoft's gives better results with almost no user interaction. Adobe's gives you more control, so you can line up pictures that Microsoft refuses to stitch together. For future photos, I'll probably use Microsoft's first, and if I have problems then use Adobe's.

August 3, 2006

Day 5

Filed under SIGGRAPH

The last day! The main thing I caught today was a COLLADA presentation. COLLADA is a industry standard file format that allows easy import/export of 3D data. As more companies support COLLADA files (.dae extension), the easier it is to add tools in your pipeline without concern for writing custom importers/exporters.

Remi Arnaud talked about the current state of COLLADA.

COLLADA RT is a viewer that will display COLLADA content. COLLADA FX will load and display COLLADA FX files. Both are sample code meant to teach you how to work with COLLADA data. More information is here.

The COLLADA Refinery was briefly touched on. It is a tool that should allow you to massage COLLADA data into formats other non-COLLADA application understand. For example, you should be able to convert a COLLADA file to a list of triangles for a tri-stripper to read. The Refinery should be able to run in batch mode.

Dallas' DNA used COLLADA in the making of "The Ant Bully" via Houdini.

The first COLLADA book was introduced at this SIGGRAPH..."COLLADA: Sailing the Gulf of 3D Digital Content Creation."

And....cut! That's a wrap! SIGGRAPH 2006 is over! I'll post my pictures and videos this weekend. Next SIGGRAPH is in San Diego!

August 2, 2006

Day 4

Filed under SIGGRAPH

I spent most of my day today at the Nvidia Exhibitor Tech Talks.

The first talk was by Evan Hart, a long time ATI-guy who recently jumped ship to Nvidia. The talk was called "OpenGL Extensions for Next Generation Hardware." Basically, this talk was about new features in the hardware that supports DirectX 10, or Shader Model 4.0. This new hardware adds a new level of programmability to graphics hardware....a geometry shader. A geometry shaders, for the first time, allows a graphics card to create or delete geometry on the fly without any help from the CPU. This opens up many new possibilities: hardware accelerated curves/NURBS, fur, automatic terrain tessellation, and point sprites to name a few. There is no DX10/Shader Model 4.0 hardware announced yet. I asked if current hardware would support the new features with a driver update and the answer was "You'll need to buy new hardware." So if you are looking for a graphics card...wait until you can get a DX10 board. Since DX10 will only run under Windows Vista (not XP), I would expect DX10 hardware around the time of the Vista launch early next year. Nvidia was very careful not to give a time frame for when they would release their DX10 hardware.

The next talk, GPU Physics, was by Mark Harris from Nvidia and Chris (didn't catch the last name) from Havok. They showed how a graphics card could be used to accelerate physics via the Havok physics engine running on a graphics card (called "Havok FX"). In the demos, it appears you get about a 10-100x improvement in the number of collision dections between objects when comparing what you can do on a CPU verses what you can do on a GPU. So instead of having 1,000's of objects on the screen, you get 10's of thousands. Havok can run on any platform (source is given, I believe). Currently Havok FX is limited to using a single GPU (this will change in the future). Future plans include the ability to calculate on the fly how something breaks apart. For example, you could send the graphics card a wall that is basically a cube. If you hit the wall with a bomb, future versions of Havok will be able to automatically break the wall into pieces.

The next talk was about Nvidia's FX Composer 2.0. New features include support for GLSL and OpenGL (no Linux support). FX Composer uses COLLADA as its standard file format for import/export of shader and model data. FX Composer can be used for creating, debugging, profiling, and tweaking shader code via GUI elements (for artists) or code (for programmers). Should be released at the end of 2006.

The last talk Nvidia I went to was "DirectX 10 Effects." Three demos featuring Shader Model 4.0 effects were shown: fur, cloth (that can be torn in real-time), and metaballs. After each demo, we went through how the effect was achieved and studied the shader code.

I picked up another book today (I can't stay away from the bookstores). This one is one of the only new books I saw at the show...."COLLADA, Sailing the Gulf of 3D Digital Content Creation." I am a big COLLADA supporter...I'll have more to say about it tomorrow when I go to the COLLADA BOF (Birds Of a Feather).

The last meeting I went to was for the OpenGL BOF. They had 8 presentations in less than 2 hours...which was a bit too much info in too short a time. They announced with the downfall of SGI, OpenGL would be controlled by the Khronos Group from now on. They announced Vista support of OpenGL is on the same level as Direct3D, so OpenGL will run like it does currently under XP, and not a slower emulated version as was feared last year in order to make it work with Vista's Aero Glass. It sounds like OpenGL 3.0 will be the equivalent to DirectX 10/Shader Model 4.0. It is not expected until SIGGRAPH 2007 at the earliest.

One of the talks was about how OpenGL can better address developer needs. When listening to what people wanted and what is planned by the OpenGL group, I couldn't help but think that OpenGL is trying to be what DirectX is today, but expects to get there in 2 to 3 years (documentation, SDK, code samples, features, tools, etc.). And since DirectX is a fast moving target, I see OpenGL just falling further behind. The only real benefit that OpenGL has over DirectX is that it runs on non-Microsoft platforms (Mac, Linux, Unix, etc.). If OpenGL is not going to lead anymore, maybe it should just become API compatible with DirectX and then we'd only have to learn about one API. It is actually more expensive to develop OpenGL apps than DirectX. You get plenty of really good DirectX developer tools between the DirectX SDK and Nvidia's SDK (both of which are free). If you want a debugger for OpenGL, it will cost you. The only game in town is gDEBugger for $490!

The SIGGRAPH Reception was at the Seaport World Trade Center. I hung out with a friend and former co-worker, Eric Hirschorn.

One more day to go!

August 1, 2006

Day 3

Filed under SIGGRAPH

My new favorite thing to do is ask the locals here in Boston to say, "Don't park the car in Harvard Yard." They talk so wicked awesome around here.

I ended up passing on the SIGGRAPH Chapters party, which was held at the ROXY from 9-2am. I wanted to be fresh for my morning meeting with NatualMotion.

I got a private meeting with NaturalMotion on a boat docked by the convention center. I already knew about Endorphin (which I really liked), so they were showing two new products.

One product is called "euphoria." It basically figures out how to animate characters on-the-fly, in real-time. Consider Madden Football. Instead of using motion capture data from real players tackling a limited number of ways, imagine every tackle being unique based on the position, size, and momentum of players. It also means you won't see one player's arm pass through another player, because collision dectection is handled correctly (this happens all the time in the current version of Madden). I would expect a future version of Madden will use euphoria.

The other product they demoed is called "morpheme." It still works with canned animation, but it allows you to easily blend animation together seemlessly. For example, if you have a walk cycle animation and a fall down animation, morpheme allows you to create the transition between the two animations automagically. This is a huge time saver.

I went to one Paper's session today: HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Systems. The three HDR papers all dealt with compressing HDR (2 for images, 1 for video). The HDR image compression (both versions) had 6x compression ratios. One version stressed image quality, the other stressed ease of compression/decompression. The HDR video compression allows compressed HDR video to play back as standard video on a DVD player or as HDR video with a special HDR player.

HDR is a big buzz word in the graphics industry these days...everything is moving to HDR. Games (like Half Life 2) are using HDR to get much more realistic/natural looking graphics. HDR monitors and graphics cards are coming. I expect after everybody buys all their movies in HD, then the HDR HD versions will come out. Watching a HDR TV verses a regular TV is almost as big a change as watching color verses black and white...it is dramatic. And you thought you were done once you got an HDTV! Wait until you see HDR HDTV!

The other paper was a presentation of Microsoft's DirectX 10 by David Bythe (doesn't really fit with HDR compression, but who cares). This article covers most of what David spoke about.

I spent the rest of the day on the show floor.

Autodesk announced Maya 8. Since Autodesk purchased Alias, now they own the two most popular animation packages in the industry: 3D Studio Max and Maya. Alias and Autodesk in years past would each have the largest booths at SIGGRAPH extolling the virtues of their products. This year they had one booth, and it seemed smaller than what either of them had last year. And now the booth had to split time between both products. Net result: both products were hard to find and did not stand out. There was no big signage for Max or Maya, unlike all the competitors (SoftImage, Lightwave, etc.).

Here are some of the new features of Maya 8. There were other additions, but I guess not important enough for their web site. There were two features that stood out for me. First was the ability to add GUI elements to the viewport. For example, you could add a slider that changes the LOD's of your models and that slider will be persistant on the screen no matter what tool set you are working with because the slider is part of the viewport. The other feature is the ability to override the viewport renderer. That means you can have your game engine do all the drawing (OpenGL or Direct3D). It gives you WYSIWYG for 3D modeling...your model in Maya will look identical to its representation in the game engine because Maya is using the game engine. Sweet! This can really improve the workflow of a 3D production pipeline.

Google had a booth at SIGGRAPH, which is a first for them I believe. They were pimping Google Earth and SketchUp. I already knew a little about SketchUp because my main man Spaghetti is using it. I watched a demo and I can see how SketchUp is really fast, easy, and fun to use. I wondered what limitations it had compared to Maya. Some I came up with after watching a short demo:

  1. No top, side, front views (just perspective).
  2. No NURBS, or SubD's
  3. No rendering.
  4. No animation.
  5. Very simple toolset. May require exporting to Maya for advanced modeling.
This tool is not meant to replace Maya...it is meant to complement it. With SketchUp you can quickly flesh out an idea and rapidly change it. I was impressed with the interface and how intuitive it is.

Pixar had the best (only?) swag...their perennial walking teapot. This year's edition is black with red/orange flames (looks like a hot rod from the 50's).

Nvidia had a cool announcement...the Quadro Plex. The concept is that you put a PCI Express card in your PC. The card talks via a 6ft cable to another box, the Quadro Plex, that contains your graphic card(s). So now you can have a PC with NO graphics card...just a cable to a graphic card box. This solves some cooling and space issues. With a fully loaded Quadro Plex, you can use 4 GPU's. Nvidia supports one PC talking to 2 Quadro Plexes for a total of 8 GPU for a single PC. That is a lot of graphics processing power (which I know our flight sims would eat up and more!). Expect future support for even more Quadro Plexes for a single PC. There is no support for GeForce...just the more expensive Quadro. 2 Quadro Plexes can be connected together to make a unit that will fit in a 3u rack space.

I wore my "My LINUX box crashes more than my WINDOWS box" t-shirt today. It caused several people to stop me and ask what my shirt was about. The best was when I walked past the "Open Source Pavilion." I could hear the people working the booth talking about my shirt as I walked around and looked at their stuff. It was very tense, but luckily no fight broke out...this time.

A company called Sandio Technology had an interesting new 3D mouse. The mouse is based on a standard Logitech mouse, with two extra HAT switches on the side on one on the top. With these extra buttons you can move a 3D object along the x, y, and z-axes. You can also use the extra buttons to rotate a 3D object along the x, y, and z-axes. These extra buttons do not interfere with normal mouse operations. The price is nice...just $79. It is not as slick as my Spaceball 5000. However, I'd rather use this mouse than a mouse/keyboard combination for moving 3D objects and the price is much less than a Spaceball 5000.

I talked to JourneyEd about what it would take for me to buy their heavily discounted software. I asked if I could be enrolled in community college in one class, and they said that would be OK, as long as I have a student ID. I asked if the Maya 8 that they are selling is time limited to one year like previous versions were. They said Maya 8 is not time limited...it is the same as the full priced version. Same goes for the Adobe products. If that is the case, I'm going back to school! Students can get Maya 8 for $389 (reg. $6999) and the Adobe Production Studio Premium for $599 (reg $1699). How can I afford *not* to go back to school?

Microsoft has a small booth with a laptop running Vista Beta 2. There was an engineer there fielding questions and letting people try out Vista. Some things I learned from playing around and talking with the engineer:

  • Volume icon in notification area now indicates volume level (more bars indicates louder volume).
  • Button on task bar initiates "Flip 3D" - the 3D task switcher. Can also be started by Windows Key-Tab.
    • Mouse scroll wheel can scroll through apps in Flip 3D.
  • New Graphics Driver Model
    • GPU is virtualized and can be shared.
    • You can run multiple 3D games and 3D apps at once, even if they all want to use the graphics card exclusively. Performance kept your from doing this under XP...should be OK with Vista.
    • If a graphics driver crashes (the #1 reason computers crash in XP), driver will silently restart itself without rebooting. Open applications should continue to run as if there was not a problem. This may be one of the most important features in Vista.
    • You can update your graphics card driver without rebooting the system.

More tomorrow....good night.


About August 2006

This page contains all entries posted to David's Blog in August 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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