In this sneak peak we outline the new products from the foundry to be shown for the first time at NAB 2010 in Las Vegas. New products include the acquisition of Weta's Paint and texturing program Mari, a new optical flow tool for AE and new Nuke versions.

Mari

10Mar/foundry/metalMari is a new product for the Foundry, developed by the R&D and texture departments at Weta Digital. Mari has been forged by Weta in the heat of the production of films such as Lord of The Rings, King Kong and Avatar. Mari is a full 3D paint/texture tool able to handle up to 30K textures and produce production ready assets while remaining responsive and interactive. The product is not a modeling tool such as Mudbox - rather it is focused just on texture painting.

The application allows hundreds of production textures to be painted on a model, but rather than be limited to just a static neutral pose, you can import an animation sequence and still interactively work on the texturing. This is important as seams and stretching can often only appear when the character or asset is in motion in a real scene, which is exactly why Mari has this feature - it is a direct result of Production requests from the original Weta team.

One of the programs strongest features is its interactivity. Even with real world production models of high complexity, with multiple 2K textures - the program is lightning fast and responsive. Through the use of some GUI and some very smart CPU programing, the engineering team has produced an extraordinarily interactive program.

To aid in workflow - multiple models can be imported and either models or parts of a master model can be hidden, allowing painting behind the asset and into tight joints and textural creases.

Mari:
* interactively handles very large 3D model data sets, scaling to over 1 million polygons
* supports large textures, up to 32K x 32K pixels (normally, single textures never need to be this large)
* handles hundreds and thousands of textures per model, over many layers
* provides single- or multi- patch UV texture map management
* supports multiple models or model instances in a single scene
* handles animated geometry and animated textures - floating point, 16-bit or 8-bit textures

In all, this means Mari is happy managing over 100 gigabyte geometry and texture data sets on a single model without slowing down artist interaction and workflow. High performance is achieved with modest hardware requirements (2-4 gigabyte system memory, .5-1 gigabyte graphics memory), with Mari automatically making efficient use of available resources and background task processes.

Mari has a painting toolset that includes:
* a clean and intuitive GUI
* fully customizable brush engine
* paint through and clone brush (between layers and textures)
* smear/drag brush
* paint canvas transform, grid warp and free-form ‘pin’ warp
* blur and sharpen
* advanced ‘healing’ brush for seamless removal and duplication of texture detail
* overall grading and high end filtering

Mari does not at the time of publication have a Per-Face Texture Mapping (Ptex) implementation, (see last week's fxpodcast discussion with Disney re: Ptex) but it is on the roadmap for immediate consideration. The challenge for the Foundry will be in selling a paint only program rather than a paint and texturing program that also does 3D sculpting - such as ZBrush or Mudbox. Interestingly, Autodesk Mudbox was created by Skymatter, founded by former artists also from Weta, where it was first used, also on King Kong.

The Foundry's approach to Mari is to aim it at bigger studios where LookDev and Modeling are two quite separate areas, so the lack of sculpting tools in a paint program would not be such a big issue. But further down the track it is possible that the Foundry will need to address this if they aim to expand to the broader, smaller facility market, which may be less keen to deploy both a Zbrush/Mudbox and Mari parallel setup. While Mari will not be extremely expensive (see below), users in smaller facilities familiar with say ZBrush may not even want to learn a second or third application.

In terms of training and GUI acceptance, Mari is very fast to pick up. Its GUI could perhaps do with a fraction more photoshop-style GUI elements to appeal to the widest audience, but it is very accessible and hundreds of Weta staff have been trained on the product inside Weta and even non-technical artists have been able to be production productive in a matter of days.

Avatar texture examples:

Download an HD clip: Avatar metal texture

Download an HD clip: Avatar character textured with Mari

Download an HD clip: closeup of an Avatar character

Closer Look at Mari

10Mar/foundry/swings
Images copyright 2009 Fox All rights reserved Image courtesy of The Foundry and Weta Digital

Zoe Lord of Weta will be at the Foundry booth at NAB demonstrating work done on Avatar. fxguidetv will provide a close-up look in the next episode of fxguidetv.

The Foundry, of course, took over development of Digital Domain’s internally developed compositor – Nuke – a few years ago and last year followed this up by initiating an ongoing collaboration with Sony Pictures Imageworks to commercially develop the Katana 3D lighting and rendering pipeline technology. The company is now committing similar effort into the growth of Mari with a new development team already at work in their London headquarters.

Pricing estimates

Mari will go into Beta soon and is expected to be in the order of around 500 euros, but no actual pricing has been officially announced.


New Plug-ins starting with After Effects and Avid

In the Blink of a Plug-in

Close on the heals of Adobe announcing Adobe Creative Suite 5 (CS5) - to be launched at NAB - fxguide understands that the Foundry will be showing two brand new high-end plug-in tools for After Effects which take full advantage of the 64-bit capabilities offered by CS5, as well as build on a new GPU 'Blink' technology the Foundry has been developing. This is particularly of interest as the Foundry recently sold their Tinder plug-ins to GenArts. Clearly while the Foundry sold its older 'eye candy' applications to GenArts it is most definitely not walking away from plug-ins in general.

Blink

The Foundry has been working on a new underlying GPU acceleration program. As Bruno Nicoletti, co-founder of the Foundry, tells Mike Seymour in this week's fxpodcast, there is an internal program of acceleration for a whole range of Foundry software. This program decided to tackle first the core technology of optical flow retiming in the form of Kronos for acceleration. Kronos is one of the crown jewels in the image processing library of the Foundry. When the Foundry first released it, Kronos marked the start of the new Foundry that we see today; it was the first step in moving from cool plug-ins to serious image processing tools. So it is both of strategic and historical significance that Kronos was the first software Nicoletti's team tackled. As you hear in the podcast - Blink aims to provide a level of abstraction so it is valid as Nvida upgrade their GPU hardware over time and also provide the same visual results on GPU or CPU systems.

Kronos 5.0 – hard core retiming

The Foundry has created a new accelerated retiming and motion blur plug-in based on their Technical Academy Award- Winning Furnace. It’s the first product to be accelerated by The Foundry’s new ‘Blink’ technology which dramatically speeds up render times by truly harnessing the power of a modern graphics card.

CameraTracker – matchmoving, directly inside Adobe After Effects

The Foundry’s new camera tracker analyses source sequences to extract the original source camera, allowing one to composite 2D or 3D elements in place. This facilitates creation of Fringe- or Heroes-style ‘in scene’ titles, extend sets virtually, etc.

This technology was previously only available in NukeX – The Foundry’s high-end film compositing tool. You will now be able to use this in After Effects. Jim Geduldick of AENY will be showing you what these plug-ins can do at the Foundry and Adobe booths, and John Montgomery will also be covering it from NAB.

AVID DS

FurnaceCore is also a new tool for Avid DS users. Since AVID 10.3 now supports OFX, coupled with development work from the engineering teams at both Avid and The Foundry, FurnaceCore is now available to AVID users. FurnaceCore is actually a set of 10 plug-in tools that use motion estimation to speed up projects involving things such as rig removal, retiming and grain management.

NUKE 6.1 and NUKEX 6.1

The Foundry's Nuke development team will be unveiling Nuke 6.1 and NukeX 6.1 at NAB - providing long awaited support for Mac OSX 64-bit, plus the perhaps non-sexy but nevertheless vital improvements to Paint and Roto tools.

Nuke 6.1 adds the Ultimatte color difference keyer, which means Nuke artists now have access to all the mainstream (non-Autodesk) industry keyers. There are many improvements to the 3D workflow, which now include FBX export; 3D selection, snapping and alignment; and interactive camera and light positioning looking through the viewer. Notable improvements have also been made to the workflow and performance of the paint and roto toolset.

NukeX 6.1 includes improved workflow features for the camera tracker such as simplified tools for selecting and eliminating bad tracks, an updated solver for stereo cameras and new constraints for motion paths.

Artists from ILM, Weta Digital, Zoic Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks will be demoing NUKE at the Foundry booth at NAB, covering production workflows from stereo projects such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland to commercial production and the VES Award winning TV series V.

Avatar Images copyright 2009 Fox All rights reserved. May not be reproduced.


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