The Foundry has launched COLORWAY, a new design application that speeds up and changes the process of iterating on and finalizing an image or product look, and expands the company's move into the design space.
Following on from the merger with MODO/Luxology, The Foundry has signaled a desire to expand into the Design space. MODO is already well established in this space and with the additional resources of The Foundry, its creators were keen to find ways to take technology from the film and video space into the design space. COLORWAY is a perfect example of this. In the film world we think nothing of rendering extra passes to allow changes during comp. Passes such as a normal pass, a P-pass or just hold out mattes, have allowed fast variation and polishing in the comp suite for years.
While taking nothing away from the Design space, or its users, it is rare to find the TD level pipeline structure that would allow such workflows normally in say product design. The Design space is by no means under-funded or technically inept, but it does prefer ease of use, speed and crafting to the ultimate flexibility and longer rendertime than film and video users are used to. COLORWAY accelerates the creative design process, giving users access to a simple environment where they can develop looks of 3D objects and scenes and then share a selection of iterations with clients, using the tech of the film pipeline but without presenting the flexibility or complexity required for visual storytelling.
With COLORWAY a user can render a scene in say MODO or C4D and then vary that in the design review environment the way a comp supervisor would in a film pipeline. But as the COLORWAY tool limits ultimate flexibility (you can't move the lights or objects) - it renders fast - very fast. This allows an interactive color and material exploration in the context of the final form. Something very valuable to designers. Users can render a new model coffee machine and then interactively and without technical expertise play with color, lighting, decals etc - all in a super fast and high quality, simple UI.
The COLORWAY ecosystem also includes COLORWAY Presenter, which is a free desktop app that lets clients further adjust the images and make real-time changes, while still feeding back those changes to first the master COLORWAY app and all the way back to the initial full 3D setup. COLORWAY designers can control which controls are visible to their clients - for example limiting the color palettes to actual manufacturing possibilities. When imported back into say MODO these 'client' adjustments appear as overrides in the material tree, with a pass for each override.
The whole system runs in the GPU for fast responsiveness. As mentioned, the product is not restricted to working with just The Foundry's MODO. C4D is already working in prototype form and will be the first of hopefully many third party 3D applications that are supported. The Foundry knows COLORWAY needs to 'play well with others'. A COLORWAY kit for MODO, to let users import and export their Colorway files into the main app, is available as of today. A kit compatible with Maxon’s Cinema4D will be available soon.
Initially, COLORWAY will be free for download evaluation but it will be a commercial product. The final pricing is not yet available and will depend on the additional functionality added before commercial final release. The end user Presenter app will be free, allowing users to distribute it to their clients without cost.
How does it work?
- Using the COLORWAY kit, users can export a .DCI file into the main COLORWAY app.
- Once in COLORWAY they have creative freedom to quickly experiment with their looks and finalize a selection of configurable scenes.
- They can then send those files over to a client or user working in the COLORWAY Presenter app.
- The COLORWAY Presenter user can tweak to find their preferred variation, before sending their chosen looks back to COLORWAY.
- All color, texture and light changes stored in the signed-off looks can then be sent directly back from COLORWAY to the source 3D application in the .DCI file for final rendering.
There are five aspects to be considered when setting up a COLORWAY image:
- Looks - these are stored and are the various variations
- Parts - which parts of the image are to be affected
- Lights - the color of the lights and their properties can be adjusted (but not the lights position)
- Material editor - this allows logos, decals, and of course diffuse color to be changed
- Filter stack - these are basic overall color corrects and filters such as Vignettes that you can apply)
What is impressive and very useful is how much the product handles print, not just video or film resolutions. As the system uses the GPU, higher print resolutions such as 8K may drive users to more powerful graphics cards, but out of the box the system will work "with most up to date graphics cards and drives," says Matt Brealey, COLORWAY Product Manager. “The process of creating a final look in 3D can be slow and frustrating for designers and clients. Simple changes involve round tripping back into a 3D application for time consuming re-rendering. With COLORWAY these barriers are removed, enabling artists with the ability to make almost limitless real-time changes to an image.”
The initial product ships with demo scenes - including a product design job built around a new coffee machine.
The Foundry is the first to acknowledge that for the VFX industry the app may not seem technically remarkable. "For us this is second nature," notes Brealey, "but for the Design guys this is really valuable."
The application is not aimed at one specific industry and the team has been testing the app with a range of 'products' and model / scene complexity. There are also controls for scaling back realism if the complexity of the model is pushing the specific GPU configuration you are using. For example, it is possible to set up the system with restrictions such as the user variations being carried through to not only the objects but the reflections of the objects. These may make the final image technically inaccurate to a VFX pipeline but such tricks would not be carried back to the master file and in many cases designers may not care if secondary reflections correctly reflect the primary adjustments.
It is not to be underestimated how useful this app could be to a designer who was previously used to having to fully re-render any client changes and having no existing 'NUKE' style pipeline that would allow client in attendance tweaking of values.
At the moment the Presenter version allows a sub set of values to be seen and adjusted. Future versions of the product may include being able to set A and B values and have a user slider to mix between, or other more advanced custom 'client' tools. While the Presenter tool promotes final client input, Brealey is at pains to point out that the grouping, and sub-set definitions stop the situation of having all the controls moved from the designer to the client and avoids complexity overload with a screen full of knobs or sliders.
Pricing and availability
People who are keen to try COLORWAY v1.0 can access a free unrestricted trial from today via The Foundry's website. It will be available free until the commercial release later this year. COLORWAY Presenter and the exporter kits for MODO and Cinema4D are free. (note C4D is not available as of today).
The COLORWAY tools are available on both Windows and Mac OSX, with and iOS version of COLORWAY Presenter coming soon, and there are plans for a Linux version it is believed of the main app.
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