3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 62: Puppet Master
Lesson 62 - Puppet Master - Part 1
Before we go on with the character animation study we've been following for the last few lessons, I have to tell you some sad and embarrassing news.
Anyone who's followed these columns knows that I've been a big booster for VRML, the Virtual Reality Modeling Language. Cosmo Software, as a division of Silicon Graphics Inc., had brought this fascinating technology to the brink of commercial viability last year, or so it seemed to me and many other observers. The Windows version of Cosmo Worlds, the premiere VRML development tool, was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm in these columns because it's a fantastic program. A number of talented developers were proving that real-time 3D graphics could be practical on the Web. And VRML was exciting simply because it was the product of such brilliant minds.
Last summer, shortly after Cosmo Worlds for Windows was released, Silicon Graphics decided to dump the Cosmo operation, and could find no buyers. This demoralizing news was covered on this site, as was the subsequent rescue of the Cosmo products by Platinum Technologies, a large database concern. Platinum had previously purchased Intervista, the only other significant name in the VRML software world, and there was hope that VRML would rebound in these consolidated hands.
But today's business world is ruthless. At the end of February, Platinum reported disappointing quarterly earning and responded by immediately firing 1,000 employees. All of those employees involved in 3D work, including VRML, were part of the sacrificial gesture. The situation was particularly ludicrous because many of the employees got the news at the VRML '99 conferenceÂa conference sponsored by (you guessed it!) Platinum. Platinum has been talking about turning all the Cosmo products and their source code over the Web3D Consortium (formerly the VRML Consortium), the group governing the official VRML standard. But it hardly makes any difference. VRML really looks like a goner now. I can't see anyone talking a risk on this technology at this point, and I'm tired of looking for the silver lining. It's just a tremendous disappointment.
Enough negativity. The previous lesson emphasized the close association between modeling and character animation, and it must have been clear how difficult it can be to achieve satisfactory deformation of a character animated with bones. In fact, it's brutal. Puppet Master is a plug-in to Lightwave, that provides a radically different approach to character animation. Normally, I'm loath to discuss plug-ins, but Puppet Master is extremely important. Its status is not exactly that of a plug-in, anyway, because it was written by Fori Owurowa. Fori (as he's usually called) is the genius responsible for many of the features that people respect most in LightwaveÂfeatures that are rapidly moving to all the competing programs, such as MetaNURBS modeling, MetaMation, and the Morph Gizmo tool for additive morphing. I don't know why Puppet Master was not included as a standard feature of Lightwave. Fori left NewTek in that company's reorganization, and I guess he just took Puppet Master with him. As a consequence, this revolutionary tool is available only through the narrowest channels. I bought it for $275 from Planet of Goods. I've been trying to work it into my animation classes at Cogswell College for over the past few months.
I've come to the conclusion that Puppet Master is one of the most important advances in character animation, and that's it's something everyone should know about.
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Created: Mar. 15, 1999
Revised: Mar. 15, 1999