Online & Kicking
Birth and Death in 3D
by Ben de Leeuw
Oh, how the tide changes. It seems just a couple of months ago that I was expounding on the bright future of episodic 3D on the Web. Okay, I was a little premature.
Recent months have seen a crash in episodic content, both 3D and 2D. The rumors are flying and the prognosticators prognosticating. The recent cutbacks at Entertaindom, MondoMedia, and Icebox are harbingers of bad tidings for episodic content. Nobody has figured out how to actually make money producing such content, and these days the Net is being driven more and more by the bottom line. It's definitely worrisome.
For those of us specifically in the Web 3D business, the demise of Dotcomix really hits home. Dotcomix was a pioneering force in Web 3D that formed out of veteran virtual character company Protozoa. Creators of cartoons such as Ask Dr. Science and Gates of Hell, Dotcomix seemed on top of the world, having just licensed their Sister Wendy cartoon to the BBC. But appearances are deceiving. On a Friday in December Dotcomix suddenly closed the doors of their office in San Francisco, and reportedly told folks not to come back after the weekend. Rumors swirled, and there were a lot of people betting we had seen the last of Dotcomix. They were half right. Dotcomix is gone, but Protozoa seems to have risen like a phoenix from the flame. Alive again, Protozoa has returned to their roots, creating motion capture and puppet CG characters for the broadcast market. We'll miss the antics of Sister Wendy and Dr. Science, but we're glad the folks behind them are still around.
Not so lucky in the Web 3D world was Eight Cylinders. Acquired only moths ago by broadband company On2, Eight Cylinders was dissolved when the parent company's stock plummeted right before the new year. Not a very merry Christmas present, and a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
Of course the ever-evolving world of Web 3D is just a big cycle of death and birth. As episodic content's star seems to be waning (for now), collaborative spaces and e-commerce applications seem to be rising to the top. Hypercosm has announced a Web-based, collaborative 3D graphics application called "CyberCare Center." Directed towards customer service, the product creates a collaborative environment for demonstrating how to assemble, configure, maintain, operate, or install a physical product. Shared interactive models form the basis for collaboration. A live customer service rep can walk through the process with a customer in a shared 3D space, answer questions directly, and point out critical details. By using Web 3D as the collaborative medium, Hypercosm has enabled this shared work space to operate over a 56K modem, much less bandwidth than is needed for applications like video conferencing, and with the added bonus of direct interactivity. Hypercosm is also marketing the server software for the "Cybercare Center" which is sold with a licensing structure similar to Real Networks.
Eyematic officially released the 2.0 version of Shout 3D for both PC and Mac. With features including full multitexturing and animation capabilities, it is a big jump over their v1.0 release. They simultaneously released a beta for hardware acceleration, which allows Shout 3D to take advantage of hardware rendering.
Discreet released 3ds max 4, the newest version of their popular modeling and animation software. Of particular interest is new built in export for Web 3D. Supported Web 3D formats include Cycore, Pulse3D, Viewpoint (formerly Metastream), and the new Macromedia Shockwave. Discreet has also finally put in a suite of polygon editing tools that makes building realtime models in max less painful than a trip to the dentist. A full review of 3ds max 4 will appear in a later edition of 3Dgate.
Ben de Leeuw teaches at several Bay Area animation colleges and is the author of Digital Cinematography (AP Professional, 1997).