Stoke MX 2.0
Thinkbox always has the coolest tools. Honestly. They are smart, create fantastic imagery and cater to the small niche of smart VFX guys who make that fantastic looking stuff.
Stoke was released last year as a tool to quickly manipulate advections and forces to drive the motion of particles, which are then frequently rendered in the sibling Thinkbox software Krakatoa or meshed in Frost.
There is additional emphasis placed on the controllability of these fields. The fields could be derived internally or from other Max particle systems like Particle Flow, Thinking Particles or FumeFX. Some external systems like Realflow BIN files are supported.
That was Stoke MX 1.0. Stoke MX 2.0 is not your dad’s Stoke.
Stoke MX 2.0 grew exponentially in scope and functionality and has enveloped two other Thinkbox products – Genome and Ember — combining node-based Magma from both, as well as Krakatoa, to create an extremely robust and procedural system for driving hierarchically independent fields and hierarchically dependent field simulations. The approach feels much more like Houdini than it does 3ds Max.
And this is not the only expansion. Through Genome, Stoke can drive fields through and from mesh data, and the field access has been expanded to include the 3ds Max physics systems mCloth and MassFX.
And Stoke fields are not only driven by other sources, but additional particles can be generated, inheriting the data from the original source particles or mesh — including velocity, color, ID — with the option of manipulation with Magma.
The resulting data can not only be sent to Krakatoa for rendering, but any other renderer that supports atmospherics (Scanline, V-Ray, FinalRender) can also handle it through the Stoke Atmospheric Effect.
The data isn’t limited to 3ds Max either. It can be exported back out to DreamWorks’ opensource VDB format, or Imageworks’ F3D for volumetric rendering.
Further functions include fast disk caching for particles, scripting support and plenty of tools for viewing particles and field data.
If all this sounds like a bunch of gloop-gorp, it probably indicates that brains more powerful than us are creating things that we don’t even know we need yet.
It took me a while to wrap my head around what Stoke is doing, but now that I’m down that rabbit hole, I may never create a simple particle system again.
Anyone who doubts the existence of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon should take a look at Appleseed Alpha: the creepy motion capture humans in the film make the cast of Polar Express look downright vibrant.
Alpha is the latest adaptation of the Appleseed manga by Masamune Shirow, the creator of Ghost in the Shell. Shirow’s original adventure was primarily set in Olympus, a model city built for the survivors of World War III in the 22nd century. In this prequel, the two main characters, tough-as-press-on-nails Deunan (voice by Luci Christian) and cyborg “bioroid” Briareos (David Matranga), who was once her boyfriend, wander distopic ruins searching for Olympus, although they’re not sure it really exists.
Two Horns (Wendel Calvert), the warlord of a ruined city hires them to eliminate some nasty bipedal drones from one end of town. During the fight, they encouter Iris (Brina Palencia) and Olson (Adam Gibbs). Iris is apparently human, although she’s so under-animated she seems to have escaped from a department store window; Olson’s a more human-looking cyborg. They’re On A Mission. Deunan and Briareos bond with the newcomers while blowing up things and decide to join their mission.
Iris is charged with preventing the evil cyborg Talos (Josh Sheltz) from capturing a secret, super weapon humans were building at end of the war. But Talos finds them and uses Iris to activate the gigantic in- sect-like war machine. The original engineers didn’t quite finish the job, so there’s the equivalent of a thermal exhaust port that gives Deunan and Briareos the entrance they need to blow it to smithereens.
The audience never really learns who Deunan and Briareos are. There’s no time for character arcs, as they’re too busy firing guns and throwing grenades in an attempt to energize the lethargic film. Although Two Horns has a mechanical face that suggests a Noh demon mask, Calvert’s over-the-top voice suggests a hip-hop crime boss. If the vocal performances are unconvincing, there’s only so much the cast can do with Marianne Krawczyk’s leaden screenplay that runs to such clichés as, “He died for something he believed in.”
Despite all the explosions, shoot-outs and martial arts moves, director Shinji Aramaki fails to infuse story with much excitement. Even when the doomsday weapon emerges from its underground bunker, there’s no sense of urgency. Everything plods along as predictably as a paint-by-number.
Appleseed has already been animated several times. The original adaptation was released in 1988, the same year as Katsuhiro Otomo’s watershed Akira. But Akira pointed the way to much of the future of anime; Appleseed largely summarized its past. John Woo produced the more elaborate, stylish and violent
second feature Appleseed Ex Machina (2004). The broadcast series Appleseed XIII (2011) was recut and released as two features subtitled Tartaros and Ouranos. Appleseed Alpha‘s release is tied to a line of action figures and the soundtrack album.
— Charles Solomon
Live Episode Read. So stop wasting your time playing punchies, tap into your mustache cash stash and get down with Mordecai and Rigby, their long-suffering boss Benson and the rest of the colorful public park characters. [Release date: June 17]
Animag: When you go back and do a commentary track, is that fun or do you find things that make you say “ouch!”?