Stoke MX 2.0

Animation Magazine - - Visual Effects -

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!”?

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