3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 7: Bringing It To Life
Lesson 7 - Bringing It To Life - Part 1
Thanks to all who wrote with comments about our last tutorial on the Software Landscape.
Many wrote to note that I had neglected to mention Form Z as an important application for the Macintosh, and it was indeed an oversight. Form Z is a highly respected product and has very sophisticated features. I do not have a Macintosh background and I count on you Mac people out there to help.
I also see that I cannot leave the subject of software without a little clarification of what I mean by a "high-end" application. Some degree of oversimplification is unavoidable when trying to describe anything as confusing and as rapidly evolving as the present software landscape for 3D animation.
The vast majority of large professional animation studios were traditionally committed to the SGI workstation, as this was the only platform powerful enough for the task. Alias Power Animator (and originally Animator) and Softimage 3D were (and still are) the premiere animation packages written for the SGI (IRIX) workstation. Both of these applications are so extraordinarily complex and powerful that there is simply no comparison between these and any others that I have characterized as "high-end," although 3D Studio Max is closest and glowing closer all the time. Both Alias and Softimage require hundreds of hours of intensive effort to establish even minimal proficiency, but the range and power of the tools they offer are stunning, even to those that use these products every day. Until very recently, neither the PC nor the Macintosh were in the picture at all as possible platforms for this kind of product.
The PC entered the picture due to the arrival of a much more powerful operating system, Windows NT, which is not only much closer to UNIX in power, but more importantly, was available for hardware that had traditional been considered a "workstation" rather than a PC. The MIPS and DEC Alpha microprocessors (both RISC chips) had been considered workstation products, but, running Windows NT (and lowering their prices), they have come to be viewed as high end PC's. This kind of processing power made it possible to move Softimage to the PC. At the same time, the practice of offering dual (and even quadruple) Intel Pentium microprocessors on one motherboard created a new level of processing power using standard PC chips, sufficient to run traditional SGI applications at some satisfactory level. So when I speak of moving the SGI packages to the PC, I am not speaking of the standard consumer PC, but rather of something that used to be considered a workstation. It is this new level of processing power that has allowed the large animation and film effects houses to move to the Windows NT operating system on hardware other that the SGI workstation.
Neither the consumer level PC nor the Power Macintosh (or Macintosh) yet offer this kind of power, though they are certainly powerful enough for some very impressive and satisfactory products (including Lightwave 3D, which has a considerable following in professional animation houses.) The Power Macintosh (being a RISC chip) is definitely making a move into the levels of processing power needed to enter the big time, but it cannot be established as a platform at the high professional end until a new operating system arrives that rivals Windows NT. Windows NT also offers OpenGL, a library of procedures to draw fast, interactive screen previews of 3D scenes that is supported by powerful, specialized graphics cards. Open GL is a necessity for professional work (and was originally an SGI-IRIX only feature). Apple has developed a competing standard called Quickdraw 3D that is supported by Power PC microprocessors, but challenging the OpenGL standard in the marketplace will be difficult to do. Thus far only Autodesk has been able to do so, offering the HEIDI screen preview technology for 3D Studio Max.
That's enough tech talk for the time being. Let's get back to the art and science of animation.
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Created: Apr. 8, 1997
Revised: Apr.22, 1997