The Best Tech of 2014

Animation Magazine - - Visual Effects -

Ev­ery year, I put to­gether a list of tech that stood out this year. Some are prod­ucts. Some are ideas. Some are just philoso­phies. So, with­out fur­ther de­lay, let’s hit it:

“In­die Artist” — First and fore­most is the recog­ni­tion from the soft­ware de­vel­op­ers that there are artists out there do­ing great work with their prod­ucts, but may not be able to af­ford $5,000 per seat to use it. Plenty have re­leased their learn­ing, per­sonal or ap­pren­tice ver­sions, but all prod­ucts had their wings clipped in some way. Now, Hou­dini, TheFoundry, Black­Mag­icDe­sign — and oth­ers to follow — have started to re­lease their un­teth­ered soft­ware at prices rang­ing from free to the equiv­a­lent of a night at the movies and a nice restau­rant ... if you fall within a cer­tain an­nual in­come. I’m sure there will be a lot of peo­ple out there who are go­ing to abuse this, but those are the same peo­ple who would use pi­rated ver­sions any­way. I be­lieve the trust and good will gen­er­ated by the ges­ture will far out­weigh the loss of po­ten­tial rev­enue.

V-Ray 3.0 Ap­pSDK — ChaosThe­ory and its leader, Vladimir Koy­la­zov, re­leased the lat­est it­er­a­tion of V-Ray to ador­ing fans in Max, Maya, Cin­ema-4D, et al., and an­nounced the pub­lic beta for Nuke in­te­gra­tion. But that’s not what is spe­cial. What lies be­neath is the lit­tle lauded and lit­tle talked about Ap­pSDK, which gives de­vel­op­ers a struc­tured frame­work to de­velop V-Ray and V-ray tools for plat­forms that oth­er­wise might not be sup­ported.

Dolby Pul­sar HDR Mon­i­tor — I saw this first at SIGGRAPH this year, and wept (in­ter­nally). The HDR mon­i­tor dis­plays around 40 times brighter than a ref­er­ence mon­i­tor, and a high dy­namic range of about 800,000:1 ... about. The blacks get deep and the brights get su­per white with­out clip­ping. This tech was re­cently an­nounced in laser-pro­jec­tor for­mat in part­ner­ship with Christie to bring us this kind of dy­namic im­age to the theater ex­pe­ri­ence. Can’t wait to see it.

Dis­ney’s BRDF — Doc­u­mented in a white pa­per from Brent Bur­ley in 2012 at Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios, the BRDF (Bidi­rec­tional Re­flectance Dis­tri­bu­tion Func­tion) was used for Ra­pun­zel’s hair in Tan­gled, and ex­panded to their whole ren­der sys­tem. Part of that process was tak­ing mea­sured BRDF’s of real ma­te­ri­als (http:// www.merl.com/brdf/), and boil­ing the pa­ram­e­ters down to some­thing that could be used and di­rected by artists. The pa­per be­came a bi­ble for de­vel­op­ers in film and games, and paved the way for much of the real-time phys­i­cally based ren­der­ing en­gines we see to­day. And it con­tin­ues to be used as the foun­da­tion for their Hype­r­ion ren­derer, most re­cently used on Big Hero 6. (https:// dis­ney-an­i­ma­tion.s3.ama­zon­aws.com/li­brary/ s2012_pb­s_dis­ney_brd­f_notes_v2.pdf)

Phys­i­cally Based Ren­der­ing — It’s not new to this year, but it has cer­tainly been get­ting trac­tion lately. All of Dis­ney’s movies since Tan­gled use their ren­derer Hype­r­ion. Pixar’s shifted Ren­der­man to full PBR for Mon­ster’s Univer­sity. An­i­mal Logic cre­ated a PBR Hy­brid called Glimpse that was used to some de­gree in con­junc­tion with PRMan on The LEGO Movie for that look that gave ac­tress/neu­ro­science PhD holder Mayam Bia­lik rea­son to think it was stop-mo­tion. And Weta re­ceived a sci-tech Os­car for their PBR ren­derer, Manuka with the added ben­e­fit of be­ing a spec­tral ren­derer (this will be big in 2015). Not to men­tion its use in games from EA, Mi­crosoft, and games de­vel­oped on the Un­real En­gine. And, of course, the main­stay ren­der­ers: Arnold, V-Ray, Mantra, as well as Maxwell, who used to be con­sid­ered too slow for pro­duc­tion, stuck to its sci­en­tific sin­cer­ity and ahead-of-its-time spec­tral ren­der­ing and waited for CPU speeds to catch up. If you aren’t ren­der­ing with PBR, you are in the wrong room.

Sub­stance Painter — Sub­stance Painter and De­signer has seem­ingly carved a groove into the tex­tur­ing com­mu­nity. With its PBR shaders, and a ro­bust set of mask­ing, non-de­struc­tive paint­ing, and thick pre­set li­brary, tex­ture painter love it world­wide. Not to men­tion the par­ti­cle brush is as fun as heck! With­out UV tiles, it doesn’t quite mea­sure up to Mari or Mud­Box ... yet. I have no doubt those guys have some­thing up their sleeve. (http://www.al­le­gorith­mic.com/)

Red Shift — This was on the list last year in its al­pha stage. Now in full re­lease, Red Shift has been el­e­vated to the level of “pro­foundly good” and “blis­ter­ingly fast.” It’s a bi­ased GPU ren­derer, so it throws the cal­cu­la­tions to your video card — and if you have some­thing crazy like an NVidia Quadra K6000, all the bet­ter — so it keeps things off the less op­ti­mized CPU. How­ever, it uses an out-of-core ar­chi­tec­ture that keeps the ge­om­e­try

Toast the re­birth of a car­toon clas­sic with this two-disc set, which com­prises the lat­ter batch of sea­son one’s episodes — 13 two-parters in all. Launched in spring of 2014 on Canada’s Tele­toon and Car­toon Net­work in the U.S., The Tom and Jerry Show was cre­ated with the aim of pre­serv­ing the slap­stick en­ergy of Hanna-Bar­bera’s char­ac­ters while up­dat­ing it with a fresh Flash look, cour­tesy of pro­duc­tion part­ner Rene­gade An­i­ma­tion and the su­per­vi­sion of di­rec­tor Dar­rell Van Cit­ters and Ash­ley Postel­waite. [Re­lease date: Jan. 13]

When last we saw spy Ster­ling Archer, voiced by H. Jon Ben­jamin, try­ing to sell co­caine after the agency he worked for, ISIS, was dis­banded. Dubbed Archer: Vice, the fifth sea­son also saw Archer and Lana Kane, voiced by Aisha Tyler, had be­come the par­ents to a baby girl.

Sea­son six, which be­gins its 13-episode run Jan. 8 on FX, sees the se­ries go back to its roots, though Thomp­son, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the se­ries along with cre­ator Adam Reed, says it’s more com­pli­cated than that. An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine: What were the big­gest chal­lenges you faced com­ing into sea­son six? Matt Thomp­son: I love what we did lately, but I wanted to get back to the hard mis­sions — go­ing out, spy­ing, peo­ple are go­ing to die. It’s a more vis­ceral com­edy. Not a lot of peo­ple no­ticed, but last sea­son no­body died. They were out try­ing to sell drugs and we kind of got away from what our roots are. I loved last sea­son, but what we wanted is to bring it back to where it used to be. So now it’s back to Archer do­ing the dan­ger­ous mis­sions, and we’re go­ing to see him take one step for­ward to­ward be­ing a good fa­ther and maybe two steps back­ward into be­ing a bad fa­ther at the same time. An­imag: Do you have any con­cerns go­ing back like that in not re­peat­ing your­self or be­ing able to find fresh ways to tackle it? Thomp­son: I don’t think that we are re­peat­ing be­cause we al­low the char­ac­ters to grow. For bet­ter or worse, they’re in­formed by their past sea­son and their past re­la­tion­ships. They’re go­ing back to do­ing the same jobs but th­ese are slightly dif­fer­ent peo­ple now. And re­ally, that shows up mostly be­tween Archer and Lana this sea­son in the emo­tion of what that means to have this baby be­tween them as they’re go­ing out there and do­ing th­ese in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous things. An­imag: Any plans for new char­ac­ters or changes to the ex­ist­ing char­ac­ters? Thomp­son: There are some new peo­ple com­ing in but my fa­vorite is some of the old peo­ple we are bring­ing back. My fa­vorite character that is part of the Archer uni­verse that is not in the main cast has al­ways been Barry the Cy­borg. So one of our best episodes of this sea­son is an episode where Barry is com­ing back. And it hap­pens to be the episode where we meet Pam’s sis­ter, Edie, who is played by Ali­son Tol­man, who was just on Fargo. From the first sea­son, if peo­ple stuck with us that long, there was a great character named Con­way Stern, who was a black Jewish se­cret agent voiced by Coby Bell. He is com­ing back as well and we’re fi­nally go­ing to get to meet Lana’s par­ents; they had to meet this baby. And two of the best just straight-up voices were cast as the voices: CCH Pounder and Keith David. Another great guy is Rob Huebel who I’ve loved on Chil­drens Hos­pi­tal. There’s this old Clint East­wood movie called The Eiger Sanc­tion and we did a take­off on it and, as far as an­i­ma­tion goes, that episode with Rob where they’re climb­ing up the moun­tain has some of the best-look­ing stuff we’ve ever done. An­imag: Has any­thing changed in the way you pro­duce the show? Thomp­son: We have changed our pipe­line, but we didn’t do it con­sciously. We did it be­cause I had a show I was do­ing in Har­mony that came off­line un­ex­pect­edly as it got re­tooled. Our pipe­line on Archer has al­ways been: Pho­to­shop back­grounds, Il­lus­tra­tor char­ac­ters, and After Ef­fects an­i­ma­tion. I had all th­ese peo­ple in Har­mony, and I said let’s try and use them to make it bet­ter. We’re not rein­vent­ing our wheel here, but you’ll see some fights and some punches, like in the very first episode there’s a fight with Archer and this Ja­panese sol­dier and you can tell, oh, that’s dif­fer­ent. And it’s like way too fluid and way too beau­ti­ful look­ing. We’re not com­pletely do­ing the show in Har­mony, but there are lit­tle pock­ets where you’ll no­tice. An­imag: What else can you tell me about sea­son six? Thomp­son: We did an episode this sea­son that was re­ally chal­leng­ing for us in its simplicity, which is the en­tire main cast gets stuck in an el­e­va­tor for the whole show. And it’s one of the fun­ni­est ones of the en­tire sea­son be­cause all it is is spend­ing time with th­ese peo­ple bick­er­ing at each other. But it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing and a chal­lenge an­i­ma­tion wise to keep that in­ter­est­ing, be­ing trapped inside an el­e­va­tor and try­ing to make that vis­ually in­ter­est­ing. I think that we did a good job.

The fan­tas­tic visual jour­ney from Ed Cat­mull’s 1972 A Com­puter An­i­mated Hand to Dis­ney’s Frozen is a fa­mil­iar one to an­i­ma­tion and CG fans and pro­fes­sion­als. But what cel­e­brated au­thor and artist Christo­pher Finch ( The Art of Walt Dis­ney) brings to his lat­est 368-page epic is a sense of va­ri­ety and won­der about what the art form’s pi­o­neers (peo­ple like George Lu­cas, Steven Spiel­berg, Ri­d­ley Scott, John Las­seter, James Cameron and Peter Jack­son) have con­trib­uted to our mod­ern cul­ture. Show­cas­ing a wealth of images from the mak­ing of Toy Story, Star Wars, Avatar and other popular an­i­mated and CG-laden films, this beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion is a great keep­sake for those of us who have wit­nessed how in­no­va­tions in tech­nol­ogy have trans­formed the medium and al­lowed vi­sion­ar­ies such as Cameron and Las­seter to re­al­ize their fan­tas­tic dreams for au­di­ences around the world.

If you’re look­ing for fresh in­spi­ra­tion for your work, or are look­ing for tips to fine-tune your fig­ure and character draw­ing skills, we rec­om­mend this de­but pa­per­back from L.A.-based artist and ed­u­ca­tor Bob Kato. In­spired by Kato’s “The Draw­ing Club” live model ses­sions, the book aims to help both pro­fes­sion­als and hob­by­ists flex and build their artis­tic mus­cles. Writ­ten with the same en­ergy that drives the club, this fig­ure draw­ing man­ual teaches read­ers how to trans­late life to the page, tell a visual story, get com­fort­able with a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als and dis­cover an in­di­vid­ual artis­tic voice, as well as ex­plor­ing comic ap­proaches to draw­ing. A hefty ar­ray of in­spir­ing ex­am­ples is also pro­vided in a gallery of both fine work and character art cre­ated by master artists and work­ing an­i­ma­tors.

From The Art of — Di­rec­tor Dean De­Blois,

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