CAD Central30 Sep, 2005 By: James L. Sipes Cadalyst
Analysis of industry news and trends
I've been to 14 SIGGRAPH conferences over the years and still feel like a kid in a candy store. This year was no exception, as researchers and vendors presented their latest graphics innovations (www.siggraph.org).
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The Electronic Theater, a blend of art and science, is always a highlight. It started off with an interactive graphic presentation by John Adamczyk called Gardens of Thuban that created a surreal world of strange plants and creatures in some distant universe. Other sequences ranged from big-budget movies such as Star Wars Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds to science visualizations such as the F3 Tornado (see figure at right, National Center for Supercomputing Applications).
Keynote speaker George Lucas of Star Wars fame talked about how digital technology has matured over the years. The emphasis now is less on developing new technology than it is on improving what we have, and finding better ways to use it.
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Lucas said that in the latest Star Wars episode, it was less about developing new technology than it was about using the technology in bigger and better ways. Instead of having just a few digital backgrounds or digital characters, for example, most of the backgrounds were digital composites, and there were far more digital characters than ever before.
"In the next 10 years," said Lucas, "visual effects will be just a normal process, just like a camera is part of the normal process."
During the question-and-answer session, Lucas emphasized the importance of previsualization in his ability to tell a story. In previsualization, a director's thoughts, ideas and sketches are turned into 3D imagery that can be used to describe the scenes in a movie. A director can then work with the 3D models and make changes as needed. This eliminates most of the guesswork involved with shooting a movie and can help keep a movie on budget.
Currently, previsualization is used primarily for complicated action sequences or special effects shots, but Lucas says that the technology will become more pervasive. Previsualization can be used to lay out a scene, determine sight lines and angles, explore lighting alternatives and even check the timing of a scene.
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Star Wars gave birth to the digital film industry, so it should be no surprise that Lucas Film is one of the most innovative firms when it comes to applying digital technology today.
"I have not really changed my methods at all," says Lucas. He wants to continue and improve this process, and this will require a system for previsualization that is simpler, more intuitive and more streamlined than existing systems. This will allow movie makers not experienced in computer graphics and 3D modeling to still use previsualization technology.
Lucas said that in terms of previsualization, about 90% of the work done on Episode I: Phantom Menace was done digitally, and only 10% was done using traditional methods. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was mixed on a digital system, the first time this has occurred.
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Programs such as SoftImage XSI (Avid), VIZ and 3ds max (Autodesk), Maya (Alias), LightWave 3D (NewTek), ZBrush (Pixologic) and form•Z (auto•des•sys), all shown at SIGGRAPH, can be used for previsualization.
James L. Sipes is the founding principal of Sand County Studios in Seattle, Washington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.