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Good news for XSI is good news for the industry.

Mark Shoennagel posted some good news on his blog on the Area a few days ago. XSI’s sales have been quite good of late and the dev team is likely to expand. Why is this a good thing for the industry as a whole? Because let’s face it… Maya is showing it’s age.

Maya Community?

I have to admit, I’ve got a love/hate thing going on with Maya. It’s an industry standard. It changed the world. It broke new ground. And it… well, kinda sucks.

Look, before you get out the pitchforks and torches, Maya fans hear me out. You have gotten used to coping with things you shouldn’t have to worry about. Every dedicated maya user I know has a cornucopia of tricks, scripts, workarounds and fixes just to get the basics done. Want to constrain an object on a curve? Sure, you can. Kinda. If you know the trick, and are willing to think about it, or have a script handy. How about editing the animation curves on an animated texture? Visually? Make particles flow on a deforming surface? The answer is always the same – yes you can. But it’s not going to be straightforward….

Serendipity Reigns

This is what I love about the net… serendipity reigns. A friend and colleague Jentsen Mooney posts a couple of videos of an (excellent) talk by Matt Ditton on vimeo on the need for artists to learn to program.

Matt has a bunch of neat videos of processing applications, which I check out. In one, he mentions an idea came from a computer scientist Jared Tarbel.

So I check out his site. And it’s wonderful. Another victory chalked up by ye olde world wide web.

complexification.net

complexification.net

XSI toon shader

Did some more work on a basic realtime toon shader for XSI (and maya, it’s CGFX.) Here’s a sample…

Me. Me me me. Me too.
It's Agent Smith(s), toon style.

Functionality is pretty basic at the moment: Ink threshold, 2 levels of paint and a hard spec hilight, overall color control, a single point light source. I still need to introduce diffusion and spec mapping, possibly some reflections and bump/normal. Remember, if you see an agent, run.

Playing with NPR

I’ve been playing around with a little app on my iPhone which creates NPR sketch effects from photos (I gather made by Bruce Gooch, who has done a lot to advance the state of the art in ‘painterly’ and ‘sketchy’ image manipulation.) ToonFX

Two of my dogs
Two of my Great Pyrenees dogs, Frankie and Hutch.

The app is simple but with a little effort and insight you can get some good results.

CGFX shaders

I’ve been playing around with CGFX realtime shaders and mental mill. Here are some basic first shaders. Mental mill makes creating this kind of stuff pretty fast, and you can edit the generated code by hand once you’re in the ballpark.

A simple realtime toon shader for XSI and Maya viewports.

Mach Studio Pro

I have been testing Mach Studio Pro for PLF for a while now, and while it’s a very new tool I am pretty pleased with it’s capabilities and potential. MSpro is an application which accepts scenes from most 3d packages (including Max, Maya, XSI, sketchup etc) and enables the artist to shade/light/render in realtime. Quality is high, with renders being competitive (and sometimes mistaken for) mental ray/vray etc in many cases. Being a realtime application there are caveats and limitations of course, for instance raytracing is not (yet) supported, nor are true radiosity/GI effects. Fair enough. And you’ll still need to render out vFX passes like particles and volumetrics in another app.

But most CG isn’t about all that – it’s about the basics and that’s where MSpro shines: on the 90% of the work you render which you can now do so in seconds rather than hours. It’s very liberating being able to light shots with immediate visual feedback, and MSpro was written with a fair eye towards being a production-friendly application with python scripting, linear lighting and HDRI workflow, output to open EXR as pass breakdowns etc.

This is clearly the direction the industry is moving and Mach Studio is not without competitors, but as a just-out-of-the-gate package they are off to a great start. And don’t get me wrong, MSpro isn’t just about the bare minimums… realtime microtesselated displacement maps aren’t basic, and realtime AO and SSS go a long way towards giving you the tools you need to create great imagery. In real time. No more waiting on farms. No more unpleasant surprises a day lat