My last blog for Siggraph 2008

As Siggraph 2008 winds down, it’s time for me to take one last, brief mention of some of the more interesting technology and developments at the show. Be sure to read upcoming issues of millimeter and Digital Content Producer magazines for more in-depth information.

While some may claim that there is nothing new at the show, if you walk the aisles with an open mind you’re sure to find trends and new gear that fits the bill.

3D, for example, turned up in many different guises from new software apps to a growing number of 3D-capable monitors. You can even make a case that stereolithography– those 3D printers that lay down 3-D objects layer by layer, from your own 3-D design– is part of the growing 3D mania. These devices have come down in price from many tens of thousands of dollars to much more affordable units.

Why would you want to create a real-world object from a digital design? You might need a prop that would be expensive to rent, or perhaps even one that doesn’t exist anywhere, for example.

You don’t even need to own your own 3-D printing machine either these days. Netherlands-based Shapeways offers a web based service where you can send 3-D designs you create in one of the many compatible programs, uploading that design to the website, and have a model mailed back to you at a very reasonable price.

At the show, the company announced Shapeways Creator Engine, a simple 3D program enabling even someone without the skills to run a 3D app like 3ds max to benefit. According to the company, newbies can still shape, mash, imprint, and design their own 3D products in just a few mouse clicks at the company’s site.

Of course the company with the most 3D design apps at the show is Autodesk, which delivered a number of significant new products for its 2009 series releases, including a 10-Year Anniversary Release of Maya 2009, Toxik 2009 Visual Effects software, MotionBuilder 2009 3D Character Animation software, Stitcher Unlimited 2009, and ImageModeler 2009.

Some new Maya improvements include new selection features such as true soft selection, and pre-selection highlighting, which will mean you need fewer mouse clicks, and less trial and error for common tasks. There’s also an improved modeling workflow, such as symmetrical modeling with soft seams, a tweak mode for rapid modifications, and a new Merge Vertex feature that enables you to combine parts of a mesh. Autodesk Toxik 2009, meanwhile, gains improved 3D to 2D workflow by allowing you to previsualize your scene in the form of the final composite, while you continue to iterate and refine only the required elements. There are so many more improvements throughout all of the product line that it’s probably easiest just to go to the Autodesk site for the most comprehensive information.

NVIDIA keeps in pace with the trend towards more powerful graphics-capable laptops with new versions of its Quadro FX mobile GPUs, featured in products from vendors including Dell, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, HP, and Lenovo. The new top-of-the-line Quadro FX 3700M comes with up to 1 GB GDDR3 memory–that’s an astonishing amount for a mobile rig to pack–that features 128 CUDA Parallel Computing Processor cores. It uses an up to 256-bit wide memory interface, 51.2 GBps graphic memory bandwidth, and support for OpenGL 2.1, Shader Model 4.0, and DirectX 10.

The company also announced new versions of its high end, standalone Quadro Plex graphics processing system. The NVIDIA Quadro Plex 2200 D2 VCS (with two Quadro GPUs, 4 dual-link DVI channels, and 8 GB of frame buffer memory) is designed for advanced visualization of extremely large models and datasets, while the Quadro Plex 2100 D4 VCS (with four GPUs, 8 dual-link DVI channels and a 4 GB frame buffer) is optimized for multi-display setups such as video walls. The systems are not only about twice as fast as previous versions, but now offer an entry-level price beginning at $10,750, or about half the previous tab.

Luxology, developers of the increasingly popular modo (a relatively simple to learn but highly integrated 3D modeling, painting and rendering app for the Mac and PC) demo’d a more interactive Preview Renderer, even when working with large datasets. “Replicators� was introduced; it offers a method for rendering large numbers of like objects at render time, or even to add details like grass, fur, leaves on trees or for repeating mechanical objects like welds. The company’s renderer received a big nod of approval by its licensing from two top CAD companies: Dassault Systèmes will use it to render out for its SolidWorks app, while Bentley Systems will incorporate it in its Microstation product line. Luxology’s Bob Bennett speculates that the companies were attracted by the renderer’s speed as well as by its subtle ability to bring a bit of bling to even buttoned-up CAD output.

Well, there’s much more to discuss from the show, but I’ve got to end somewhere. So, until next year in New Orleans….

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The editors of Digital Content Producer and millimeter post live from Siggraph as the news happens. Check back several times a day for the latest industry news, reports from press conferences, and product introductions.

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