Wondertouch bought by GenArts

In a key strategic move, GenArts have bought Wondertouch, makers of the particleIllusion software. Not only does this perfectly balance with GenArts current product line with almost no overlap, but Wondertouch is about to release particleIllusion for After Effects, the result of several years of work by founder and Wondertouch cornerstone, Alan Lorence. We spoke to both Wondertouch and GenArts about what this means to their over 10,000 users.


In a completed, undisclosed financial deal, GenArts has completely acquired Wondertouch, makers of particleIllusion software and its extensive library of preset effects. In the deal, Alan Lorence, founder, as well as all of Wondertouch’s technology will be a part of GenArts. Wondertouch has a customer base of over 10,000 users. According to GenArts CEO Katherine Hays, “There is surprisingly little to no overlap with GenArts customer base, it is quite different, so we can continue to innovate for them and expand our reach to that broader market.”

For the time being the move will not affect Wondertouch’s customers. “It will be business as usual for purchasing products, asking support questions, licensing questions, etc., it will still go through Wondertouch.com and particleIllusion will stay as a product and a brand in the market,” confirmed Hays.

A sample from the Pro Emitter library

The Pro Emitter library is a library of advanced emitter presets made by users. Pro Emitters are a collection of 360 particleIllusion 3.0 emitters arranged into 12 themed libraries. Notably the Fire and Pryo effects (Pyro 1 and 2) are extremely realistic but also well documented to allow users to modify the ‘presets’ for their own custom needs. For a sprite-based particle system, the quality of the sprites is the key. Wondertouch have lifted this to a level where the results look almost like volumetric effects. In terms of technical approaches, having both graphical point-based particles and sprite-based particles makes Wondertouch so significant. Prior to this style of particle work, the only good option for a single user or small studio was to use something from Artbeats Stock library, but the problem with any stock footage library, no matter how good, is its lack of customizable control. Plus many stock libraries are standard definition or simply not high enough resolution for the specific shot at hand.
So successful are the preset Pro emitter libraries that studios are using them in episodic television and elsewhere in preference to working from scratch in a program such as Maya.

The main Wondertouch products are standalone applications running on Windows and Mac. On the near horizon is the release of particleIllusion for After Effects (particleIllusion AE). This is a major change for Wondertouch. In the past Combustion used a licensed copy of Wondertouch’s particleIllusion SE, but there has not been an AE plugin version of the Wondertouch particles or Pro Emitters libraries. Lorence points out, from his point of view, one of the great advantages of the particleIllusions plugin is that “from day one you’ll have over 2800 existing presets to choose from immediately. You dont need to do any work to get great explosions, fairy dust, or almost anything you can think of, you have them all ready for you – right out of the box.”
The new plugin is fully compatible with CS4 from Adobe and is just entering Beta now for both Mac and Windows. “It will ship in the first half of December,” confirmed Lorence to fxguide directly. Regular pricing will be $299 but if you own particleIllusion 3.0 already, pIllusion AE will be $179.

particleIllusion AE will allow you to load any of the over 2800 existing Particle Illusion 3.0 emitters in After Effects, including the Pro Emitters. It will also include the emitter search engine that is found in particleView. You’ll have access to all of the “top-level” parameters: size, life, number, velocity, etc. (almost everything that shows in the particleIllusion hierarchy window), so you’ll be able to do quite a bit of customization at both the top emitter level and the individual particle type level (and free emitter type level for super emitters).

particleIllusion ui on the mac

If one looks at the deal from GenArts point of view, the technology of particles is a very strong strategic play. Particles are the basis of not only graphical elements, but fire, smoke, hair and ribbon style animations. In this one move, GenArts gains a huge technological jigsaw piece to this portfolio of products and more importantly underlying technology. Of course this is only true as Alan Lorence himself is locked in, as he is the backbone of not only the company but the technology. In a sense GenArts is buying not only the brand and existing customer base but also Lorence himself. A point we put to GenArts CEO Katherine Hays who confirmed Lorence would be a full-time employee of GenArts, remaining in St. Louis, Mo. where he lives. “One of the things that attracted us to Wondertouch was Alan, and one of Alan’s goals out of this was to get back to doing more development.”

However Wondertouch does not get GenArts ‘all the way’ on particle technology, as Wondertouch is not a full-blown 3D particle system that would be used for something like Hair. The sprite system allows for fire or for example a cartoon mouse to walk-cycle loop as a video sprite (Frank Gabriel) – but not a massive style ‘agent’ solution, or 3D hair etc. The advantage of Wondertouch’s approach is that it is very fast, but it is limited in some respects. On the planning horizon therefore for Wondertouch’s particleIllusion 4.0 has been 3D particles. This is a major key technology for the group. It is assumed GenArts will continue on this development trajectory with Lorence in the driving seat and it is hoped that as Lorence is now free from some of the non-technical business aspects of running Wondertouch – that this may even be accelerated.

From the Pro library

Alan Lorence has a long history developing embedded control and design in the vending machine, toy and gaming industry but he is trained formally in physics and electrical engineering. He became president of Wondertouch after having bought out his partner in the particle technology from Illusion in July 2002 (Impulse – developers of Imagine 3D software). Lorence, while working alongside Impulse, was the primary software co-developer partner, and was central to all the coding and he has remained hands on ever since. Once Lorence formed Wondertouch he renamed the product particleIllusions. Lorence’s first love is computer graphics which is obvious from anyone who has played or worked with Wondertouch’s products.

At GenArts Lorence will be working closely with Gary Oberbrunner, GenArts’ Chief Scientist and Dr. David Sturman who recently joined GenArts as CTO from Microsoft. Sturman led Microsoft’s technology development for dynamic in-game advertising, developing ad capabilities for PC, Xbox, Zune & iPhone platforms, and is a long time associate of Katherine Hays dating back to their days together pre-Microsoft at Massive, Inc.

One aspect that Wondertouch had also flagged as a direction for future research is vastly improved search systems. Already there is a free download of the first part of that strategy, the free particleView tool. This allows even non-licensed users of Wondertouch to review effects. Scripting has also been suggested as another possible feature in version 4.0.

As fxguide previously reported GenArts has strategic alliances with companies such as ILM. These new technologies and products will all be available under these deals to such strategic partners. Furthermore Hays commented, “Our strategy is still the same…which is to expand through acquisition and internal innovation and build out our portfolio.”