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3D DIRECT • December 27, 2000

Eternal Truth of the Month

10 3D Predictions for 2001

by Swami Rendalotsa

There is one prediction about the 3D industry that you don't need a crystal ball or tarot cards to prognosticate with: change is inevitable. Looking back only five years ago gives us a serious wake up call to how fast the high tech computer graphics industry moves, and provides a context for looking towards the future. Consider these tidbits...

  • In 1995, Microsoft Windows NT systems were the red-headed stepchildren of the more professional, and more powerful Silicon Graphics IRIX workstations. Intergraph was one of the few vendors pushing NT workstations, and serious 3D pros viewed these systems as nothing more than curiosities. Nowadays, Windows based workstations dominate the 3D world, and IRIX workstations are still in use but mostly by large production facilities.

  • In 1995, 3D on the PC was starting to gain momentum as a viable alternative to Unix based workstations. Discreet 3D Studio v4 (for DOS no less) was the two-ton gorilla of PC 3D software, and NewTek LightWave 3D had just crossed the pond from the Amiga to Windows with version 4. Caligari trueSpace was cruising into version 3, and Microsoft had waded into the 3D waters with their purchase of Softimage, which was to be a short lived, and turbulent corporate romance. Alias and Wavefront were separate companies, at least for the moment.

  • In 1995, you could purchase a Silicon Graphics Indigo High Impact along with a copy of Alias PowerAnimator for a little bit less than a Mercedes SUV. Want to get into 3D in 1995? You'd better have about $80,000. Want to actually put your animations to tape? Add another $20,000 or so and you're ready to rock. All of this power can now be had for well under $10,000, leveling the playing field for most 3D wannabes.

These are just a few examples of where we've been, and will help to put into context where we're going. A year in the world of 3D is like 10 years in other industries, and we, as 3D artists, must be prepared to roll with the changes, or we'll get left behind fast. That said, here are some predictions for the year 2001.

  1. One of the big four will fade away. Everyone in professional 3D circles knows there are four core applications that control most of the market, Alias|Wavefront Maya, Discreet 3D Studio MAX, LightWave, and Softimage. I predict that at least one of these companies will evaporate in the next 12 months, and two of the packages in particular could face being acquired or shut down entirely in the coming year.

  2. The chip wars are over, and Nvidia won. With all the consolidation of 3D chipmakers in the last couple of years, there really aren't that many serious players left. 3Dlabs has the high-end with their Wildcat graphics (formerly Intense3D), and Nvidia has almost all the rest. With their recent acquisition of 3Dfx, Nvidia's competition has been lessened, and 2001 looks to be a watershed year for the company, especially with the debut of the Nvidia powered Microsoft Xbox, premiering in Fall 2001.

  3. 2001 will be the year of the 3D film invasion. While 1995 was the year that marked the release of the first all 3D animated feature (Toy Story), 2001 is poised to be the greatest year ever for 3D animated features including: Shrek from PDI, Monsters Inc. from Pixar, Final Fantasy from Square, to name a few. The success or failure of these films will determine how many 3D films we see in the near future. Root for films like Final Fantasy if you want to see more 3D films aimed at adults.

  4. 3D pros will re-embrace the Mac platform. Long thought of as just a 2D graphics platform, the release of OS X, Maya for Mac, Maxon Cinema 4D XL, and LightWave (all optimized for OS X), will make the Apple platform a true 3D contender once again. With OS X's Unix kernel, preemptive multitasking, fault tolerance, and multiple processor support, the addition of pro 3D tools like Maya and high-end graphics cards due from Nvidia will have any serious 3D artist pondering the switch to Mac from the Wintel world.

  5. Broadband will proliferate faster than anyone imagined. While many industry wags say widespread broadband proliferation is still years away, look for a huge increase in broadband enabled homes in 2001. Once people get a taste of high-speed access, they want it all the time, and companies like AT&T and AOL/Time Warner are working at a record pace to deliver broadband to the masses. This is great news for 3D content creators. The more broadband connections there are, the more content will be required. You may be generating that content, and if not you, someone surely will.

  6. High-definition TV will become a major issue for 3D artists. If you haven't done so already, you may very well be asked to render your animations for a client at HD resolution. Although widespread adoption of HDTV is still a few years off, many content providers will start to demand HD resolution content, even if the primary delivery will be standard PAL or NTSC. This is a forward thinking approach, insuring that the content will be HD ready when the infrastructure is there to deliver HDTV to the masses. If you don't know about HDTV issues yet, it's time to jump on the learning bandwagon.

  7. Software will get harder, not easier to use. Even with all of the CG companies out there who are trying to pack a nuclear bomb sized punch into a bullet sized package, 3D will continue to be difficult to use. Ease of use and productivity enhancing tools will continue to improve, but 3D is an art that requires mountains of patience, and, dare I say it, artistic talent! There is no Make Art button; there never will be, and if you want to be good at 3D, you'll need to work at it. This isn't rocket science, but it sure as hell isn't a piece of cake either.

  8. 2001 will be the year of the 64-bit processor. Since the release of the 386 processor in the late 1980s, we've been stuck in a 32-bit world with no end in sight. 2001 will see the release of the Intel Itanium processor, and with apps like Maya, MAX, and LightWave announcing support for this chipset, 3D artists are poised to experience tremendous increases in speed. Chips with more than 2GHz, super fast system busses, Rambus RAM, and fast SCSI hard disks portend a completely new class of workstation. Look to spend a lot of time upgrading in 2001. At least it will be for a good reason. Itanium based systems will be lightning fast, and perfect for the increased needs of 3D artists, horsepower-wise.

  9. If you like games, great. If you don't, you'd better start! Video games recently surpassed feature films in terms of revenue, and that trend seems to be here to stay. The Sony Playstation 2, Xbox, Sega DreamCast, and Gamecube from Nintendo all insure that 2001 will be the Year of the Console. This is good not only for gamers, but for 3D artists who make these games. If you aren't doing game development currently, you'd be wise to look in that direction. The number of consoles and games due out in the next year is tremendous. This is a rapidly growing sector of the 3D business, and many artists who thought they'd be in film or broadcast will find themselves doing realtime 3D.

  10. There will be tons more indie 3D films available. As 3D animation tools become more prolific, expect to see 3D films created by independent animators appearing at a staggering rate. Today, one artist with one PC can do more than a team of 10 people could do five years ago. And the ability to tell a story with 3D animation is getting easier all the time. There will, of course, be tons more crap out there, but there will also be more jewels, and easier ways to access these films on the Internet will ensure rapid dissemination of the good stuff.

All in all, I predict 2001 to be a banner year for 3D overall, and I can't imagine a better time to get in the game. The looming broadband revolution, video games, and new 3D films all are making it impossible to ignore 3D animation, and the more people's expectations rise with the technology, the more work there is for us. As we turn the page to the real new Millennium, I'm reminded of the timeless lyrics of the band Timbuk3 who said, "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!"

Swami Rendalotsa enjoys sitting under a tree and prognosticating on your collective futures. Visit the chat forum and tell him how brilliant he is. Have a happy and safe New Year.