Tech Re­views

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able to the masses. I’m just go­ing to say right now that the fea­ture set goes way be­yond this re­view, so be sure to take the time to visit the Side Ef­fects web­site for all the good­ness that Hou­dini brings. I’ll fo­cus on the VFX fea­tures here, and even then, I won’t be able to hit ev­ery­thing.

The most ex­cit­ing ad­vance, in my nerdy mind, is that for ev­ery kind of dy­namic sim­u­la­tion — flu­ids, pyro, wa­ter, grains, etc. — the solve can be dis­trib­uted across mul­ti­ple ma­chines with­out a de­pen­dency on pre­vi­ous frames. In essence, if you have a farm of ma­chines and the li­censes, you can cre­ate one, uber­work­sta­tion that works on mul­ti­ple parts of the grid vol­ume, com­mu­ni­cat­ing chan­nel data across the grid seams to keep ev­ery­one on the same page. I can­not ex­press how ad­van­ta­geous this is as project direc­tors de­mand larger and larger ob­jects fall­ing into larger and larger bod­ies of wa­ter ... filled with burn­ing oil and lava.

That brings up vis­cous flu­ids, like chocolate and lava — and chocolate lava. This was the big thing last year, and in this new version, Side Ef­fects has put in tools for even more com­plex­ity. Tem­per­a­ture and vari­able vis­cos­ity means that hot­ter flu­ids will be more runny, while colder ones will be more solid — and that can change as the ob­jects cools (or heats up). This prop­a­gates into the shader for lava, where the tem­per­a­ture drives black­body emis­sions, so the hot­ter the ma­te­rial, the brighter the ma­te­rial. It can also drive the for­ma­tion of a de­li­cious lava crust.

The FLIP solver for wa­ter and white­wa­ter is highly op­ti­mized, com­press­ing the vol­ume and nec­es­sary data per frame so that it takes up less drive space. The com­pres­sion is lossy, so, like a JPEG, it’s throw­ing out in­ter­me­di­ate data (par­ti­cles in this case), which can be re­built when the sim is reloaded. Ad­di­tional op­ti­miza­tion comes from culling the data to the FOV of the cam­era. The solver can han­dle up to 2 bil­lion par­ti­cles, which is also the case for the grain solver.

Speak­ing of the grain solver: For sand and dirt and fine par­ti­cle stuff, the grain solver ben­e­fits from the same dis­trib­uted sim­u­la­tions and high par­ti­cle count. Sand has the unique qual­ity of need­ing to be stable when not mov­ing, de­spite a gag­illion in­ter­nal col­li­sions tak­ing place. Fre­quently this leads to jit­ter­ing and ex­plod­ing sim­u­la­tions. So, there is a node that puts par­ti­cles to “sleep” un­til a fast-mov­ing ob­ject or par­ti­cles come in — and then the awaken node brings them back to life.

De­spite this cur­sory over­view of a sub­stan­tial fea­ture list from a fea­ture sub­set, this gives you an idea of the crit­i­cal ad­vances Side Ef­fects has been con­cen­trat­ing on. Cur­rent

Hou­dini users should be at least a lit­tle giddy.

Hiromu Arakawa’s manga Full­metal Al­chemist has been adapted to two tele­vi­sion se­ries, two the­atri­cal fea­tures, sev­eral ju­ve­nile nov­els and an as­sort­ment of brief OAV’s. The an­i­mated ver­sions rank among the best and best-loved anime prop­er­ties of the first decade of the 21st cen­tury.

The broad­cast se­ries Full­metal Al­chemist (2003) in­tro­duced view­ers to the ad­ven­tures of child prodi­gies Ed­ward and Alphonse El­ric. Those ad­ven­tures be­gan on the night they vi­o­lated the great­est taboo of alchemy by at­tempt­ing to bring their mother back from the dead. (“We just wanted to see Mom’s smile again.”) A ter­ri­ble price was ex­acted for their ef­forts at hu­man trans­mu­ta­tion. Ed lost his left leg and Al would have died, but Ed­ward sac­ri­ficed his right arm to bond his brother’s soul to an empty suit of ar­mor with a mag­i­cal seal in blood. The ro­botic pros­the­ses their friend Winry crafted won Ed the ti­tle of the Full­metal Al­chemist.

As they travel through a world that re­sem­bles early 20th cen­tury Europe, the El­ric broth­ers con­clude that only the philoso­pher’s stone can re­store their bod­ies. Or­di­nary al­chem­i­cal re­ac­tions are based on the prin­ci­ple of equiv­a­lent ex­change: ev­ery­thing taken must be matched by a sac­ri­fice of equal value, just as chem­i­cal equa­tions have to bal­ance. The philoso­pher’s stone isn’t bound by those laws but, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s one ring, its power is in­her­ently evil. Cre­at­ing a stone re­quires the sac­ri­fice of hu­man lives. The broth­ers also learn that pre­vi­ous ef­forts at hu­man trans­mu­ta­tion cre­ated the seven pow­er­ful, soul­less en­ti­ties known as Ho­mun­culi: Pride, Glut­tony, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Greed and Lust.

Im­pro­vised End­ing Full­metal Al­chemist was an­i­mated be­fore Arakawa had com­pleted the manga. The film­mak­ers had to cre­ate an end­ing for her story, and added a weird twist that took Ed and his fa­ther Ho­hen­heim to Weimar Ger­many in the 1920s. That sto­ry­line con­cluded in the fea­ture The Con­queror of Sham­bala (2005).

Full­metal Al­chemist: Broth­er­hood (2009) is a darker, more ex­cit­ing re­make that closely fol­lows the com­pleted manga. Al­though the film­mak­ers ex­panded the se­ries from 51 episodes to 63, many of the side sto­ries, such as the El­rics’ gru­el­ing train­ing un­der the re­doubtable Izumi-sen­sei, were short­ened to keep the fo­cus on the main plot. The ex­tended length and tighter fo­cus en­ables the viewer to grasp events more fully, in­clud­ing the cruel Ish­valan war that helped to shape the world the El­rics know.

In the dra­matic fi­nale, Ed and Alphonse dis­cover that the dark mas­ter the Ho­mun­culi call fa­ther is plot­ting to ac­quire god-like pow­ers by mur­der­ing the pop­u­la­tion of an en­tire coun­try to cre­ate a gi­gan­tic philoso­pher’s stone. De­ter­mined to pre­vent this slaugh­ter, the El­rics and their al­lies trans­form rocks and build­ings into of­fen­sive weapons and pro­tec­tive walls in an all-out bat­tle. Di­rec­tor Ya­suhiro Irie fills th­ese high-en­ergy se­quences with bold CG ef­fects.

But the dy­namic ef­fects are eclipsed by the emo­tions un­der­ly­ing the con­flict, as each of the main char­ac­ters must rise to face the chal­lenges. Al­though their al­chem­i­cal skills and hu­mor ini­tially won the El­ric broth­ers their fol­low­ing, the char­ac­ters’ hu­man vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties deep­ened fans’ af­fec­tion. In Broth­er­hood, Ed­ward and Alphonse each dis­cover just how much they’re will­ing to sac­ri­fice for each other. Those sac­ri­fices make the bat­tle and its res­o­lu­tion in Broth­er­hood the ex­cit­ing fi­nale the se­ries de­manded.

Orig­i­nal Charm Al­though its res­o­lu­tion is less sat­is­fy­ing, the orig­i­nal Full­metal se­ries re­tains a spe­cial charm, much of it due to Aaron Dis­muke’s win­ning per­for­mance as the voice of Alphonse. He sounds vul­ner­a­ble, yet sen­si­ble — as Al should — and his in­ter­ac­tions with Vic Mignogna’s Ed feel ut­terly be­liev­able. Most of the cast (from FUNi­ma­tion’s reper­tory com­pany of voice ac­tors) re­peated their roles in Broth­er­hood, in­clud­ing Mignogna. But Dis­muke’s voice was chang­ing when they recorded the fi­nal episodes of the first se­ries. (He’s done voice work in re­cent anime — he’s now a bari­tone.) Maxey White­head took over the role of Alphonse, but her voice is too ob­vi­ously a woman’s, rather than a boy’s, and her per­for­mance lacks the same ring of au­then­tic­ity.

In the book­let ac­com­pa­ny­ing this re-is­sue of Full­metal Al­chemist, di­rec­tor Seiji Mizushima talks about the prob­lems Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion artists faced dur­ing the tran­si­tion to dig­i­tal me­dia. For the Blu-ray release, they keyed the look to the red of Ed’s coat, the gold of his hair and the in­creas­ingly gray back­grounds as the story dark­ens. The muted red of Ed’s sig­na­ture coat con­trasts strongly with the steel blue of the mil­i­tary of­fi­cers’ uni­forms and the clearer blue of the back­ground skies. Ed’s hair may re­mind view­ers of the gold­en­rod-col­ored crayon in the old Cray­ola as­sort­ment.

Al­though the Full­metal Al­chemist fran­chise re­mains pop­u­lar in the United States, there have been no new ad­ven­tures for the El­rics since The Sa­cred Star of Mi­los (2011), a fea­ture set dur­ing Arakawa’s orig­i­nal nar­ra­tive, but in a new lo­ca­tion within her world. The lack of new ma­te­rial is sad, but not sur­pris­ing. Broth­er­hood brought the ad­ven­tures of the El­ric broth­ers to a de­fin­i­tive and ul­ti­mately sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. But it was hard to say good-bye to Ed and Al. View­ers had to sac­ri­fice ad­di­tional se­quels for an ap­pro­pri­ate end­ing to their story: An ex­am­ple of equiv­a­lent ex­change.

Se­ri­ous fans will want both Full­metal Al­chemist and Full­metal Al­chemist: Broth­er­hood in their li­braries. [

Glob­ally ac­claimed pop artist Takashi Mu­rakami made his di­rec­to­rial de­but with this 2013 hy­brid flick, which blends CG crea­tures with Mu­rakami’s fan­ci­ful look with live ac­tion. The plot cen­ters on a young boy who re­lo­cates to a coun­try town with his mother af­ter

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