Monday, May 16, 2011

Aqsis update leak : Point based GI ???

As some of you may know, Aqsis has been undergoing some serious work and has been overshadowed at times by news about Blender, RIBMosaic and other open source projects. In a recent IRC developer meeting it has been revealed that the developmental and experimental branch of Aqsis has point based microbuffer rendering, which allows for ambient occlusion, radiosity and subsurface scattering. It was incorrectly assumed this was ray tracing, until that was cleared up. The catch is that since it is a new code update, it is slow and not meant for public consumption and won't be for some time. Chris Foster is the one that has been rebuilding Aqsis and adding the new core, as well as other major overhauls and graced the IRC chat with an image of Aqsis rendering a Cornell Box with point based indirect illumination.

Pretty sweet eh? Again this is NOT ready for any type of release yet, this is all experimental code that is subject to change at a moments notice, not to mention if pairing with production assets might just make Aqsis explode and create a black hole in the universe, you get the idea. The capability is there though which is a huge moment as this is a feature that many people have been asking the Aqsis team to add, so exciting times are in store as more is revealed.

As a side note, it truly is a very special time to be involved with the Blender to Renderman movement and community. In 2005 all the recent software upgrades that have happened were a dream.

Literally we are at that moment in time that most of us only dreamed of achieving. With Blender and RIBMosaic at a more stable state, we can safely say that this is the start of that breath of air, the awakening, that moment in time where things that where only a dream a few years ago, are now in front of us. Now Aqsis has kicked it up a notch, revealing an image that inspires us to continue. There have been many times that a few of us really had no idea if this was going to catch on, the whole Blender and Renderman pairing. The whole concept of it is hard to grasp since the workflow alone is alien to most Blender users, and Renderman users were a bit frustrated with the lack of this or that, things that are nearly built into Maya and Houdini. Over the past 2 years much of that time was spent rebuilding code from the ground up, making advances in pipeline construction and flow, getting involved with the Blender community as well as the professional Renderman community so communication could be established, the thousands of hours testing scene after scene.

Now here we are. Blender is more powerful than ever, RIBMosaic has evolved and Aqsis is capable of modern illumination methods at an embryonic state. Welcome to the new way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pixar announces ProServer 16, Weta adds Deep Image Compositing to OpenEXR

Pixar released a press item on Monday May 9th, 2011 that Pro Server 16.0 is now available. What makes this version so important is because of the competition Renderman has faced in recent years, primarily the Arnold renderer and the fact that ray tracing in films is actually quite affordable now, in fact in some cases needed in order to really achieve the photo real look. Ray tracing in film is not new, in fact Pixar and ILM were the first houses that were able to do so, however these shots were few and far between. One of the first uses of ray tracing by Pixar was during a couple of shots in "A Bug's Life", then full use of ray tracing and global illumination in "Cars".

The problem is that while it is possible, ray tracing and global illumination is horribly expensive, long render times, huge load on the CPU and memory, requires baking the illumination similar to traditional shadow maps and in general slow to work with. Pixar's flagship product and grandfather of the REYES family tree has been considered slow compared to other renderer's like Arnold, VRay and MentalRay when it comes to ray tracing. This coincidently helped these competing products establishing a foothold on the VFX and animation industry as viable production renderers because of that very fact.

From the press release :

"This latest release features a large number of innovative advancements in RenderMan's ray tracing technology, including a new ray tracing hider, a radiosity cache, and physically plausible shading. These milestones allow RenderMan to take full advantage of the ever-increasing processing power of multi-core architectures, while also delivering the tools to implement these new features with efficiency and elegance. Moreover, RenderMan's new progressive ray tracing provides interactive re-rendering for production shading and lighting."

While nobody can prove otherwise, it remains a bit suspicious that Pixar added a new interactive re-rendering method, possibly similar to the Aqsis interactive re-rendering that was announced last year, possibly it is just great timing. It is still cool none the less. Aqsis still holds the title of being the first REYES renderer that can re-render at near real time on the CPU.

"RenderMan Pro Server 16.0 fulfills every need on our feature request list. It lets us focus on the customizations we really care about for ray tracing physically-correct lighting in the cleanest way possible," said Dan Evans, Head of Shaders at Framestore, London. "The speed of the new radiosity cache makes ray-traced global illumination practical in a single render pass, and we can now refine our test frames live using the new progressive ray tracing. Multi-bounce glossy specular, importance sampling, area shadows, and direct lighting are now a breeze thanks to the renderer supporting them all directly. Better still, regular ray tracing is staggeringly faster at 8X on some of our more complex stereo renders.”

Of course the products are commercial with ProServer 16.0 at $2,000 a seat, so this is beyond the price range of most of the population. A full price list can be found here if you want to check them out. This is one reason for this website's existence, much of the population that would be interested in Renderman simply cannot afford the software that these houses use, at best we get to use free limited use versions, so the importance of open source Renderman is very valid. While Aqsis still is not up to the level of features that PRMan does, it is far beyond just a hobbyist tool and as seen over the past couple of years, capable of producing film quality imagery.

Pixar always seems to kick it up a notch when it matters.

Weta also made recent news when it announced that it will be adding deep image compositing to OpenEXR, while at FMX 2011. More can be explained here at Colin Doncaster's website. Colin was the original developer of the Liquid plugin, a Maya to Renderman exporter that first saw use at Weta (see a pattern??). The Lord of The Ring's trilogy's visual effects were primarily accomplished via this tool for instance.

Animal Logic first produced a paper that described what deep image compositing is and what it is for, it was supposed to be at SIGGRAPH 2010 but was rejected. Why, nobody knows, SIGGRAPH paper judges are not known for their generosity. Since then several applications have had this added, such as Side FX's Houdini. Now OpenEXR will get another very useful addition that will allow other applications to take advantage of deep image compositing, so one could expect to see this in Blender as well as Aqsis in time, when this happens is uncertain and certainly not planned officially anywhere.

"The concept of a deep image isn’t brand new; ultimately it’s just the technique of encoding more than just the RGBA value in a pixel. Many applications and systems already store multiple channels of data to enhance the compositing workflow as well as re-using calculations already performed by the rendering engine. Side FX software’s Houdini is an example of one of the more recent applications to utilize this workflow via it’s custom camera image format.", from Colin's site.

Exciting times in all areas of visual effects and animation!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

100 K Hits on BlenderToRenderman!

Well sometime this weekend this website has finally broke the 100,000 visitor mark, somewhat of a surprise considering this is a niche market of the Blender community. Seems that over time we have gathered quite a following, honestly there was no expectation that this site would get that many visits at all, let alone in 3 years. While the number pales in comparison to other websites like the official Blender site, it is a great achievement for this site.

The site began as an idea in 2005, the whole concept of developing some kind of "community" for Blender and Renderman users. At the time I was involved with an indie film that was to use Blender as the animation package of choice, however at that time the scope of the film required some sophisticated rendering that Blender was just not capable of at that time in history. So the idea to use Renderman was introduced, the project began there simply because the ONLY script available was the Blenderman script. Ultimately my involvement with the film stopped, I started to go to school and working 40 hours a week really limited my time for other things.

Then I started a forum that was intended to be a community for this idea, it was hosted on some free forum site and started the movement that exists today. Temujin, the co-founder of this site, had gone from user to moderator and we developed a friendship. Sadly that forum was shut down, with no explanation as to why, we STILL have no idea why the forum was removed despite several emails to the company. So Temujin started to build the beginnings of what you see here.

In Jan of 2007 the site went live, as a sub domain of Blogger, the first post was on Jan 31, by Temujin. Since then the site has evolved, has changed designs, added things, removed things and eventually on October of 2007 bought the domain name. While this site is still hosted on Google's Blogger, the domain has changed things, made the site more official sounding and easier to remember than a long URL. At times people have purchased renewals of the domain, so each year someone else is the "co-owner", currently my girlfriend is that person, previous co-owners included Eric Back (Whiterabbit, the original developer of RIBMosaic).

So here we are nearly 4 years later, with over 100K hits under our belt, an average of over 300 hits per day, from people and companies all over the world. Some of the biggest names in the vfx and animation industry have visited this site, including Pixar, ILM, LucasArts, Disney, Blizzard and more. Countless colleges and universities have made hits. Even some companies from areas where we never imagined interest have come by, such as GM, Ford, Lucent, AT&T and even government agencies, like NSA, FBI and CIA have peeked a look. We even had a couple Echelon hits.

So today, on Mothers Day, this post goes out to MY mother, who had she not given birth to me, would have never given rise to this website, nor Project Widow and in all honesty you would not be reading this post at all. So thank you Mom, for bringing me into this world and changing even a small section of it forever.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Disney releases expression editor SeExpr as open source

The studios just keep surprising us with more and more goodies. Just a day after LAIKA released SLIM templates, Disney releases an expression editor called SeExpr, a tool that can have uses in many areas of production.

"Arithmetic expressions appear in almost every animation system ever created. Being able to embed an expression language in a piece of custom software allows an amazing degree of artistic freedom. At Disney artists have enjoyed using expressions because they allow just enough flexibility without being overwhelming to non-programmer users. Developers have enjoyed them too for quick prototyping and deployment of fixes to production needs. SeExpr started as a language for our procedural geometry instancing tool, XGen. Work was done to generalize it into something that could be used in other contexts. Later it was integrated into paint3d, our texture painting facility, which opened the door to procedural synthesis. More recently, we have integrated it as a way of defining procedural controls to physical dynamical simulations and render time particle instancing."

"Expressions can be seen as a way of allowing customization of inner loops. This is contrast to scripting which is mostly aimed at glueing large parts of code base together. So in this sense, C++ forms the center of your application, python could be used to put pieces of it together, and SeExpr is used to customize tight inner loop."

As stated on the website the in house GUI at Disney is not being released, maybe it involves code that needs to be evaluated to be released under an open source license, it could be proprietary. Or they could just enjoy watching us squirm with anticipation, it is doubtful that it will ever be seen outside Disney though, either way Disney is understanding the power and reasoning for releasing production code to the public, adoption into other packages only helps spread it, just look at how fast Ptex was added to software, not to mention the other projects like PartIO, Munki and Resprado have quickly begun to collect followers and watchers. Who knows how many studios have adopted these projects into their own pipelines? While some of these projects may not be directly related to 3D production, their use in a pipeline can be invaluable.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

LAIKA releases SLIM templates to the public

LAIKA, the Portland, Oregon based animation studio, has released production SLIM templates on the Pixar website in an effort to help boost the Renderman Studio community. For those of you who do not know what SLIM is for, it is an application that is developed by Pixar to develop shaders, similar to how RIBMosaic makes "shader fragments" for Blender based off of RSL shaders made in a shader editor such as Shrimp, SLer and Shaderman. However SLIM is far more advanced and has been a staple in any pipeline that uses Maya and Pixar's Renderman.

SLIM templates are readily available on the internet, mainly released for free by Renderman users, however visual effects and animation studios keep these hidden away, just like any other asset in a production, so for LAIKA to release them to the public is a big deal.

You can grab these templates and example files at the Pixar Support Forum (free registration is required)

LAIKA, Inc. is an animation company specializing in feature films, commercials, music videos, broadcast series, interactive content, broadcast graphics and short films. Owned by Nike co-founder and Chairman Philip H. Knight, the company is located in Portland, Oregon.

LAIKA has a 30-year animation history presenting the artistry of award-winning filmmakers, designers and animators. In addition to numerous international honors, the company has won two Academy Awards, 11 Emmy Awards, 11 Clio Awards, three London International Advertising and Design Awards, five Mobius Advertising Awards and two Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival awards.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

New Blender to Renderman Wiki and other site news

Just a short update on the site. The new wiki is in place, though much work has to be done in order for it to be viewed as somewhat complete.
The previous wiki was hosted on Wikidot, which provided a decent working environment, it was just not visually pleasing as the new one, which is hosted by Google's Sites now. Why Wikidot was chosen first before the Google Sites is still a mystery, this is changed now.

Other sites related to Blender have also undergone some visual changes, such as, a site started by Daniel Salazar, a friend of Blender to Renderman community actually.

BlenderStorm also has undergone the same visual design treatment, as well as being an OpenID provider.

BlendSwap also has undergone some updates!

The Blender community is getting connected! Now the next step is for this site is to follow suit, see what happens.