MGLA Meeting Summary for May 2, 2000

We opened our meeting with our usual Q&A. Co hosts Chris Meyer and Lachlan Westfall talked about what they had seen at the recent NAB show, while Trish Meyer was out in the lobby signing copies of the Meyers' just released book Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects. Part of the discussion surrounded the potential release of multiprocessor Macs, which were shown two weeks later at the Apple Developers Conference.

Out first presenter, and sponsor for the evening (thank you!), was Alias|Wavefront who were down to show Maya 2.5, their extremely powerful 3D modeling, animation and rendering software, and Maya Paint Effects, and adjunct to Maya that will soon become an Adobe After Effects plug in.

First up was A|W's Evelyn Blain who brought us up to speed and the current product line as well as what's in store for us in Maya 3.0. One of the key features was unlimited universal rendering. Much more information on what's coming in Maya 3.0, as well as information on a free "try out" version of Maya can be found on their website.

A|W's Mark Rumsey took the stage next to walk us through Maya and Paint Effects. Mark explained that one of the key features of Maya is that all aspects of the program are integrated into a single package. Mark started out with the modeling aspects by using Nurbs to build the rim of a wheel. Here he showed off the ability to create transition surfaces or filets for rounding holes, edges, etc. Maya also features polygonal modeling.

A third form of modeling, which is more akin to sculpting objects is available via the Artisan tool. Here you can "paint select" specific control vertices and then push and pull them as if you were modeling a piece of clay. The Artisan tool is also used in conjunction with bones allowing you to specify in great detail how the skin of an object will be influenced by underlying bones. These features are extremely well implemented and one of the reasons Maya is so strong with respect to character animation.

Next Mark showed off Maya's power particle emission features which included surprising real-time previews. With Maya one particle emitter can be set to emit other particle emitters. This is great for fireworks where each particle can have it's own particle trail. Maya features many built in effects such as fireworks and lightning so you don't have to re-invent the wheel.

After particles we dove into the exciting world of Body Dynamics. Maya features both rigid and soft body dynamics which include very powerful physics-simulations which allow you to define weight, density, gravity, constraints and other parameters for multiple objects and then simply set them in motion with respect to each other. Mark showed us an example of a bowling ball knocking down ten pins. He set the motion for the ball, and Maya figured out the rest based on the pre-defined parameters for the pins, the ball and the alley. Soft body dynamics were also demonstrated, creating bouncing jello cubes and flowing curtains.

At this point questions came from the audience about the type of computer horsepower required to compute and display complex physics simulations in real time. Mark pointed out that the NT systems are now a very good choice for running Maya. He also notes that the speed of the graphics is one of the key factors in building a system that "screams." Maya on the Macintosh was also introduced two weeks later at the Apple Developers Conference; you can see the press release by clicking here.

After impressing us with Maya 2.5, Mark stunned the crowd with Paint Effects. Paint effects is integrated into Maya Complete and offered as a plug-in for Maya Fusion and, soon, for Adobe After Effects. (We'll have a demo of the After Effects plug-in at MGLA as soon as it's shipping.)

Paint Effects features both 2D and 3D modes and allows you to paint images on the screen with a variety of interactive brushes. In 2D mode the brush objects will grow out from the stroke. For example, a "vine brush" will feature a main stem following your stroke but from the main stem secondary stems and ultimately leaves will "grow" from your stroke.

2D mode was impressive, 3D mode was unbelievable. Here, not only could you paint a scene full of flowers and other foliage but, because the "paint" is based on a particle system, you could also move a camera through the scene. This elicited many gasps from our audience.

Maya complete is available for $7500. However, there is an exceptional deal through June 30 where a first-time customer can get Maya Complete for $3995.00 (first seat only). Maya Unlimited (which includes fur, cloth and other high-end features) is available for $16,000. Soon after our meeting A|W announced that Maya was coming to the Mac early next year. The word from A|W is that normally, it's $1000 per transaction to switch platforms. Whether you transfer 1 or 100 licenses per transaction, the cost is $1000.

After our break, where Chris and Trish signed more books (all 50 were sold out, with profits going to a variety of wildlife charities Chris and Trish participate in) and many of us partook in Krispy Kreme doughnuts (thanks to whomever brought them!), we featured Micronet who came down to show us their new SANcube - one of the products that impressed all three of your MGLA co-hosts at NAB.

The SANcube (SAN for Storage Area Network) is a multi-user Firewire storage system that looks just right for small workgroups or small-to-mid-sized design houses (like many of us run). It works with the Firewire ports built into recent Macs, and is being qualified to work with add-in cards and Windows 2000.

The systems comes in four configurations (software included):

1 User, 70GB, $1499.00
2 Users, 100GB, $2149
3 Users, 150GB, $2699.00
4 Users, 220 GB, $3899.99

Data transfer rate is up to 30MB/second via Firewire. While four users can read files, only one can write to a specific volume at any one time. Although designed for sharing of files by DV editors, this system obviously has great non-realtime applications for shared storage for motion graphics studios.

Long time MGLA member Dan Warvi (whose help in setting up this month's meeting is much appreciated) introduced our final presenter of the evening: Judy Korin of Seesaw studios. Dan had seen some of Judy's work for Fox's Boyz and Girlz Channel and asked her to come down to MGLA and take us through the project from early concepts to final delivery.

Judy explained that she began as a graphics designer back in 1984 when she learned the Quantel Paintbox. She soon discovered Adobe Photoshop and became a convert. She now describes herself as a "creative director at large" who started her own company Seesaw Studios in January of '98.

Her first step in designing the identity of the Boyz and Girlz Channels was to define precisely what these channels are, what differentiates boys from girls in the 8-12 age range. She wanted to determine how to target these categories without resorting to blatant gender stereotyping. She and designer Lauri Jones began by creating what Judy called "feel collages" which were collections of images and colors that they felt defined "Boyz" and "Girlz."

Interestingly the design process took an interactive turn as the websites <http://bchannel.com> and <http://gchannel.com> were actually launched before the channels. On the sites kids were asked to created custom icons from a variety of sources. In watching what the kids created they were able to determine which icons and logos where the most popular, and that's what they ended up using.

Judy then showed us storyboards for the video they shot and talked about all the types of graphics that needed to be created for the two channels and preschool and parents versions that aired at different times. Due to the workload Judy enlisted the help of Reality Check Studios in creating the animations for the Boyz and Parentz Channels.

Judy Korin can be reached at judy@seesawstudios.com.

Once again, we'd like to thank Alias|Wavefront for sponsoring the evening and impressing everyone with Maya and Paint Effects.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday June 6th at AFI, with a tentative lineup including sponsors Discrete showing their new combustion* package which wowed many at NAB, along with presenting some information on their Rich Pixel Format that allows tight integration with 3D package 3D Studio MAX.

We hope to see you there!
Trish, Chris, Lucky & Dan
Your MGLA co-hosts