The State of the Art

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At the re­cent SIGGRAPH con­fab in Los An­ge­les, our com­pany Face­ware Tech­nolo­gies an­nounced a SDK for our real-time fa­cial mo­cap and an­i­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, Face­ware Live. With the rise in VR/ AR/ MR, in­ter­ac­tive mar­ket­ing and the use of CG, we have ex­pe­ri­enced a grow­ing num­ber of in­quiries from dif­fer­ent mar­kets for real-time tech­nolo­gies. That’s why we cre­ated this SDK to en­able de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate the tools they need to meet their own spe­cific needs.

In the decade that I’ve been with Face­ware (which used to be a ser­vice com­pany known as Im­age Met­rics), we have made great strides in of­fer­ing more flex­i­ble and qual­ity an­i­ma­tion soft­ware and hard­ware to stu­dios and in­die artists alike. We are in a very niche busi­ness, within the mo­tion-cap­ture and fa­cial cap­ture field. So we de­cided to work on cre­at­ing a stand-alone prod­uct line that peo­ple could use them­selves with­out re­ly­ing on third par­ties. Face­ware has been im­mensely suc­cess­ful, and we now have cus­tomers in 56 coun­tries on six con­ti­nents. From where we stand, it has been very fas­ci­nat­ing to ob­serve the many dif­fer­ent ways an­i­ma­tion is be­ing cre­ated and used world­wide.

New Ven­tures We re­cently an­nounced a new R&D di­vi­sion called Face­ware In­ter­ac­tive, which fo­cuses on real-time con­tent cre­ation. The use cases for this sort of tech­nol­ogy point to a wide-open mar­ket. Ev­ery­thing from VR to theme parks to mall kiosks. Just this past month, we saw the launch of a pop-up restau­rant in New York called The Spot­ted Chee­tah, which was spon- sored by Chee­tos. When you walk into this restau­rant they have this stand-alone screen with Ch­ester the Chee­tah there to greet you and wel­come you to the restau­rant. Be­hind the scenes was a mo­tion-cap­ture per­former do­ing fa­cial and body cap­ture, which was stream­ing in real time through a game en­gine onto a dis­play for the fans. Peo­ple loved it and kids couldn’t leave the screen, and Frito-Lay was very ex­cited about it. It’s that type of in­no­va­tion that has started to push the en­ve­lope in terms of of­fer­ing unique, in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences for ev­ery­one.

We also just an­nounced an ex­cit­ing new fea­ture in Cloud Im­perium Games’ Star Ci­ti­zen. The fea­ture al­lows a player to stream the mo­tion of their face onto their game char­ac­ter as they talk to the other play­ers in the game. In other words, player-to-player chat us­ing real-time an­i­ma­tion. We think this is re­ally go­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize how mul­ti­player gam­ing is done.

We are also work­ing with two pro­fes­sional foot­ball teams, in­te­grat­ing the tech­nol­ogy into their apps as well as cre­at­ing in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in sta­di­ums. You can have all these aug­mented re­al­ity ef­fects ap­plied to your face and screened up on the jum­botron.

I be­lieve, in the next few years, we’ll see more ad­vance­ment in this area, much of it com­ing from all the big tech­nol­ogy pushes that are go­ing on around VR and AR. Take, for ex­am­ple, real-time ren­der­ing. Real-time ren­der­ing al­lows you to do a lot of dif­fer­ent things in both medi­ums, and across other plat­forms. With de­vices like the iPhone 8, we are go­ing to see a lot of util­ity-type tools as well as im­mer­sive tools. Pro- cess­ing power is go­ing to help push that. Ob­vi­ously the In­tels and Nvidias and AMDs of the world are very in­ter­ested in rea­sons to use their chips. When you have the hard­ware man­u­fac­tur­ers, the con­tent mak­ers and screen providers push­ing the medium, this will have ben­e­fits for ev­ery­one across the board.

Adapt and Thrive The key to suc­cess in this new world is be­ing flex­i­ble. If you want to get into the tech and an­i­ma­tion field, it’s cru­cial to de­velop adapt­able skills across all these dif­fer­ent chang­ing are­nas. If you be­come some­what of a turn-key artist—mean­ing you can cre­ate your art­work and an­i­ma­tion, then in­te­grate and tech­ni­cally support it—you will not be so spe­cial­ized that you be­come an is­land. Even­tu­ally you will find your spe­cialty and niche, but it never hurts to know all the com­ple­men­tary skills for what you re­ally want to do.

The speed at which an­i­mated con­tent is be­ing cre­ated is get­ting faster and faster. You do see in­die movies (this even goes back to Hood­winked) that are made for sig­nif­i­cantly less money, but have more re­turns. The faster you can cre­ate con­tent, the bet­ter it is for cre­ators to try new ideas. There’s a wave of new con­tent be­ing cre­ated for a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Just look at a trend like au­tonomous self-driv­ing cars, and think what that means in terms of the amount of free time peo­ple will have to con­sume more con­tent.

What is ev­i­dent is that these are very in­ter­est­ing and fast-chang­ing times, and it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to fol­low the new wave of con­tent cre­ation in the near fu­ture. Peter Busch is the VP of Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment at Face­ware Tech. For more info about the com­pany’s turnkey and real-time sys­tems, visit www.face­waretech.com.

NVIDIA re­leased a new batch of Quadro cards last fall (yes, I’m late in the game), rest­ing on the Pas­cal GPU ar­chi­tec­ture. The se­ries ranges from the low-end en­try level P400 to the scream­ing be­he­moth GP100. I was able to test drive the P4000, which sits on the high end of the mid-level cards.

The first thing I no­ticed is how in­cred­i­bly small the card is, given its power—es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son to the 5200 I pulled out of my work­sta­tion. It has a com­pa­ra­bly short PCB and a broad cool­ing sys­tem. But the card is pow­er­ful de­spite the size, so it still draws 105W, re­quir­ing the PCI Ex­press power con­nec­tor to feed the 1792 CUDA Cores and 5.3 T TFLOPS of sing gle-pre­ci­sion com­put­ing.com The P4000 comes in 5GB and 8GB RAM fla­vors. MineM is the 8GB kind, which is great —make that es­sen­tial—for GPU RAM-hun­gry soft­ware like Foundry’s Mari and Al­le­gorith­mic’s Sub­stance Painter, and ad­di­tion­ally com­posit­ing soft­ware like Nuke and After Ef­fects are throw­ing more and more pro­cesses to the GPU. The more RAM, the bet­ter. I would con­sider 8GB the floor rather than the ceil­ing if you are do­ing this kind of work.

There are four 1.4 cer­ti­fied Dis­playPorts on the back that can drive 4K dis­plays at 120Hz, 5K dis­plays at 60Hz, and 8K (?!) at 60Hz. The si­mul­ta­ne­ous mul­ti­stream dis­plays are great for multi-mon­i­tor use, but with VR needs grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially, we need that through­put. The top of the card sports SLI con­nec­tors for ty­ing mul­ti­ple cards to­gether for even more GPU power, stereo ports for 3D dis­plays, and Quadro Sync ports for sync­ing mul­ti­ple mon­i­tors to dis­play one huge im­age at ul­tra-high res­o­lu­tions on ar­rays of mon­i­tors—not that you’ll have some­thing like that in your of­fice.

The only thing miss­ing is USB-C ports for your Wa­com tablet!

All in all, this re­lease is a su­per strong mid-level card for most of your GPU needs, with­out a huge price tag that comes with the higher-end cards. I see this as the en­try level card you should go for if you are get­ting into higher-level model­ing and tex­ture paint­ing. As I said be­fore, those kinds of pro­grams are ex­tremely hun­gry for RAM, and the last thing you want is lag when you are try­ing to paint. 3100 with 4GB of RAM, and a peak 1.25 TFLOP sin­gle-pre­ci­sion com­pute.

The WX 3100 is even smaller than the NVIDIA P4000 I was re­view­ing. In fact, it’s so small that I am be­gin­ning to won­der how we can fit all this tech­nol­ogy into such a tiny pack­age. Prob­a­bly, the 14nm Po­laris GPU ar­chi­tec­ture has some­thing to do with that. It boasts eight 512 streams, pro­ces­sors, and specs have it per­form­ing 2.3 times bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sors. The bench­marks against its clos­est NVIDIA com­peti­tor, the P600, have it at 28 per­cent faster. I’ll take their word for it, but I didn’t have a P600 to com­pare my­self, and putting the WX 3100 against the P4000 is hardly a fair as­sess­ment.

But back to real num­bers: The WX 3100 is ex­tremely con­ser­va­tive with its power draw of 50W, along with a power man­age­ment sys­tem to bal­ance out the power load and re­duce con­sump­tion when it’s idle. Also, the back­side has one full and two mini 1.4 Dis­playPorts (so I can di­rectly plug in my Wa­com Cin­tiq Pro, yay!), which can drive three 4K mon­i­tors at 60Hz—or one 5K at 30Hz.

The per­for­mance is snappy and re­spon­sive. The card is cer­ti­fied for SOLIDWORKS, PTC Creo, Siemens NX and CATIA, but I don’t have those to test with, so in­stead I went with Maya, 3ds Max, Modo, ZBrush, Mari and Sub­stance Painter. Model­ing pro­grams stayed quick, es­pe­cially with your straight-for­ward model­ing tasks. ZBrush can get out of hand quickly, but even at mil­lions and mil­lions of polys, I was still get­ting things done. Mari and Sub­stance bogged down much more quickly be­cause of their de­pen­dence on GPU power and the RAM ca­pac­ity. But even so, the card took a lot of abuse be­fore slow­ing.

The big­gest thing the WX 3100 has go­ing for it is the price-per­for­mance ra­tio. At $199, the card has a ton of power and is more read­ily ac­ces­si­ble than higher-end cards—es­pe­cially for artists just get­ting in the game. I wish it were pos­si­ble to in­crease the RAM, but to stay in­ex­pen­sive, small and en­ergy ef­fi­cient, I think the WX 3100 may be capped. Over­all, it’s a great en­try-level card. Web­site: pro.radeon.com Price: $199 Todd Sheri­dan Perry is a vfx su­per­vi­sor and dig­i­tal artist whose cred­its in­clude The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tow­ers, Speed Racer, 2012, Fi­nal Des­ti­na­tion 5 and Avengers: Age of Ul­tron. You can reach him at todd@tea­spoon­vfx.com.

Hirsh, CEO of WOW! Un­lim­ited Me­dia. An Ever-Expanding Em­pire Fred­er­a­tor chan­nels fea­ture hit se­ries in­clud­ing Pendle­ton Ward’s Bravest War­riors and Natasha Al­le­gri’s Bee and Pup­pyCat, and a rich uni­verse of new shorts from rising an­i­ma­tors. The Fred­er­a­tor Network is the world’s largest an­i­ma­tion-only multi-chan­nel network on YouTube and pro­grams on­line chan­nels such as Chan­nel Fred­er­a­tor and Car­toon Hang­over. Be­tween Jan­uary and April 2017, the network added 270 chan­nels and re­ceived over 2.4 bil­lion views. As of April 30, it had 43 mil­lion sub­scribers.

Seib­ert points out that YouTube has al­ways been a pow­er­ful tool to ap­proach new ta­lent. “With the new CAVCO sit­u­a­tion, we can help ta­lent re­ally ex­pand their vi­sion,” he says. “At WOW, we try to help ta­lent be­yond the ar­eas that they’re cur­rently pro­duc­ing their con­tent. If they want to ex­pand on TV or movies, co-pro­duce shows with Fred­er­a­tor, this is our way of mak­ing that hap­pen. In this case, we can help Cana­dian-based chan­nels or ta­lent find a big­ger au­di­ence via the Fred­er­a­tor Network.”

As al­ways, Seib­ert is also busy oversee­ing the many suc­cess­ful an­i­mated shows he pro­duces. His lat­est project Castl­e­va­nia (based on the popular game Castl­e­va­nia III: Drac­ula’s Curse) had a suc­cess­ful launch on Net­flix in July. “The se­ries has had in­cred­i­ble suc­cess across the world,” he notes. “We ac­quired the rights to the prop­erty more than a decade ago, and we brought pro­ducer Kevin Kolde to Fred­er­a­tor. Piece by piece with pa­tience and per- sis­tence, we put this show to­gether, and it’s been great to see it re­ceive so much at­ten­tion.”

Among the other news, the Fred­er­a­tor mae­stro shares with us that thanks to a part­ner­ship with Nel­vana, the fourth sea­son of Bravest War­riors will be ready to air in the U.S. to­wards the end of this year. The sec­ond sea­son of Bee and Pup­pyCat is also in pro­duc­tion, and the ninth and fi­nal sea­son of Ad­ven­ture Time will con­clude on Nick­elodeon in spring of 2018. Seib­ert is also oversee­ing his an­i­mated in­cu­ba­tor project, a joint ven­ture with Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion which will de­liver 12 shorts to air on Car­toon Hang­over. And, he plans to an­nounce sev­eral new minis­eries pro­duced by the Fred­er­a­tor Dig­i­tal Unit in New York City in the next few weeks.

As ex­pected, Seib­ert is jug­gling hun­dreds of other projects as he heads over to the MIP Ju­nior mar­ket in France to de­liver his key­note. No mat­ter how busy he is, he con­tin­ues to be a re­mark­able source of in­spi­ra­tion for artists and an­i­ma­tors all over the world. “I think that an­i­ma­tion con­tin­ues to be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing yet an­other Golden Age,” he con­cludes. “We are in a place where Castl­e­va­nia can ex­ist at the same time as Ad­ven­ture Time, and Bravest War­riors can en­ter­tain fans in par­al­lel to The Loud House and The Fairly Od­dPar­ents. We are see­ing high-qual­ity an­i­ma­tion be­ing pro­duced for ev­ery age now in such in­cred­i­ble num­bers. We could have never imag­ined this sec­ond Golden Age only a few decades ago.” For more info, visit www.chan­nel­fred­er­a­tor­net­work.com and fred­er­a­tor.com.

Brave New Worlds: Left, a mo­tion-cap­ture per­former greets cus­tomers as Ch­ester at pop-up restau­rant The Spot­ted Chee­tah. Right, Face­ware Live cap­tures per­for­mances and pro­duces fa­cial an­i­ma­tion in real time.

Peter Busch

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