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3D DIRECT • February 8, 2000

New Products

Updates, Partnerships, and Automation; Oh My!

by Matthew Hoover

Houdini's Reappearing Act

Side Effects Software has released Houdini 4.0, its long-awaited 3D animation solution originally announced at SIGGRAPH 99. Houdini 4.0 has a new workflow and a customizable user interface that's understandable but still powerful enough for Houdini's procedural animation. The UI features browser-style navigation complete with bookmarks and doesn't require switching modes to do lighting, rendering, animation, and so on. VEX (short for vector expressions) is Houdini's new programmable shader language. Houdini 4.0 is available on Linux (with support for the new Linux OpenGL from SGI) in addition to Windows NT and IRIX. Pricing starts at $17,000, and upgrades are $4,000.

Side Effects is also working on an integrated game-development solution, codenamed Proceed, that combines a games-enhanced version of Houdini technology and powerful middleware. The package, scheduled to be available in Q2 2000 on a per-project royalty basis, includes two platform-optimized run-time engines (one for particles and one for motion) and a C++ code generator to connect the authoring tools and engines. The middleware was initially developed for the PC and PlayStation 2, and Side Effects plans to announce support for other consoles later this year. Like Houdini, the authoring side of Proceed will run on Linux, Windows NT, and IRIX. www.sidefx.com

Softimage Tools via Subscription, the EZ Way

Phoenix Tools, developers of Avid Softimage/Sumatra technology and plug-ins, has announced EZ Tools, a new subscription-based way to purchase its plug-ins and shaders. For an annual fee of $1,600, you get unlimited one-year use of a large assortment of the company's tools for IK, cloth and wind simulation, fur and hair rendering, surfacing, and more, with free updates and technical support. Included are scores of plug-ins and shaders from the Modeling Kit, Animation Kit, Real Surface Kit, IK-Tools, Star-Light Kit, MetaMesh Extreme, Picture Shaders, Matter Shaders, Cloth & Wind Twirl, and the Fur Kit. If you're already a Phoenix Tools customer, check the web site about getting credit toward EZ Tools. www.phoenixtools.com

Middleware for Sega Dreamcast

Criterion Software announced a partnership with Sega Enterprises Ltd. to bring Criterion RenderWare3 middleware to the Dreamcast console. Already a popular tool for developing Sony PlayStation 2 games, Renderware3 can speed up the development of a game by taking care of common functionality and customizations that must be made for each platform. RenderWare3 is available for PC, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, and later in Q1 2000, Mac, at $1,000 per seat per year, royalty-free. www.renderware.com

In other Dreamcast news, Sega is partnering with Japanese cable companies to deliver a Dreamcast/cable modem combination starting in April, a month after the PlayStation 2—which Sony has been positioning as an Internet appliance—goes on sale in Japan. The built-in cable modem will supersede the Dreamcast's built-in 56k modem, but Sega isn't yet marketing the Dreamcast as more than a game console. www.sega.com

Automated Lip-Sync

LIPSinc. has released Echo, software that automates character lip sync in a variety of animation packages, game engines, and multimedia platforms. The basis of Echo is LIPSinc.'s voice digital signal processing (voiceDSP) voice-analysis system, which takes advantage of advanced voice digital signal processing technology. voiceDSP analyzes speech and automatically outputs a stream of morph targets for mouth, jaw, and lip positions. Echo can output flipbook, dope sheet, and function curve animation data, too. Licenses for Echo start at $10,000. You can download a free demo from www.lipsinc.com.

An Even Better RenderDrive—for MAX, too

Advanced Rendering Technology (ART) announced the RD5000 ($24,950), the next generation of its rendering appliance, due to ship in March 2000. The RD5000 is based on ART's AR350 raytracing graphics processor and will deliver two to five times the performance of its predecessor. The RenderDrive's combination of software and hardware in one dedicated machine has made it a popular solution for rendering photorealistic animation and images.

ART also announced version 2.0 of the RenderDrive software, which includes a Pixar RenderMan-compliant interface that opens up RenderMan's extensible shading language to RenderDrive users. Version 2.0 offers a full raytracing implementation of the language, and the RenderPipe RIB enables rendering RenderMan files from high-end 3D apps such as Alias|Wavefront Maya and Side Effects Houdini. The software adds support for object motion blur and a completely new sampling procedure for better performance.

ART also has a new RenderPipe plug-in for Discreet 3D Studio MAX and VIZ, which starts at $24,950, allowing you to import, edit, and render RenderMan shaders directly within the MAX Materials display. Any combination of RenderMan shaders can be applied and mixed with standard MAX materials, as well as with ART's custom RenderCoat materials library. Versions of RenderPipe for other 3D apps are in development. www.art-render.com

form•Z Updates to 3.5

auto•des•sys Inc. has released form•Z 3.5, the latest version of its award-winning 3D modeling software. New features include user-definable Project Colors, more accurate derivation of NURBS objects from parametric sources and other modeling enhancements, web-enabled Help menu options, and support for left-to-right text. A previously available palette, Status of Objects, has been reintroduced in 3.5. An upgrade from v. 3.0 is $149, from v. 2.9 is $325, and from any older version is $475. www.formz.com

Matthew Hoover is managing editor for 3D magazine. Contact him at [email protected].