Isotropix has introduced a new range of products/pricing: two node-locked licenses of Clarisse iFX and a new product, called CRender. Node-locked licenses, dedicated to freelancers and to small studios, are respectively available at the incredible prices of $999 and $1499, with CRender starting at $459.
With aggressive new pricing and new features being rolled out, we sat down with Sam Assadian, CEO and Founder of Isotropix who make clarisse iFX.
fxg: Where is the adoption of the product been so far? What style of work?
Assadian: Until very recently, Clarisse was mainly used in large to mid sized studios around the world. It simplifies something that became far too complex over the years. For big studios, it's a too good opportunity to miss but it takes time and good timing, as well as courage to do the switch.
As strange as it may sound, for many of our early adopters, Clarisse was seen as the “Industry's best kept secret”. Focusing on those profiles really helped to mature the software and all of those advancements can be seen in 1.5. While it could have been risky, I really believe this was a right and necessary move.
Since our last summer “Anniversary Pack” offer, things have somewhat changed. A lot of new kinds of new customer profiles joined our community. This offer came at the right time as the software was way more mature than it was back in 2012. Temporary lowering our pricing barriers allowed enthusiasts artists and smaller studios to adopt Clarisse.
There's no particular style that comes out of the pack. It can be stylized or photo real for VFX, 3D animation, TV Series, TV commercial or prints.
Above: watch a Clarisse iFX workflow video.
fxg: Is the software better placed technically for any particular style of work, does it excel in say environments over creatures?
Assadian: When our users start to use Clarisse, they generally tend to naturally use it at the back end of the pipeline for layout/rendering/lighting/pre-compositing. They can also use it very early for artworks and look development. They work on any kind of scenes, static or animated environments including animated characters with hair and fur.
Generally speaking, Clarisse iFX is a big success when the job requires to work with dense geometric complexity (animated or not). Clarisse offers many tools to simplify layout and manage scene assembly. As Clarisse is insanely fast, it's an instant hit for matte painters and artists who work on dense CG environments. As a matter of fact, one of our customer did recently a stress test containing about 1 million unique items (geometries and not instances) and over 200K materials and textures and Clarisse continued to be interactive and responsive!
To give an idea of the scale of this stress test project, its output file size was over 6 GB. You have to put that figure in perspective. Clarisse projects don't store geometry and texture data. Instead, geometries and images are kept as reference into the item file path. In a way it can be compared to a HMTL index file linking to other HTMLs and images. 6 GB would be the size of that HTML but doesn't include the size of the data it links to. Hopefully, this gives an idea of the complexity Clarisse can handle.
Lighting/shading is another area where it shines. Artists just love how they can see, in real time, their material applied on their geometries inside Clarisse's 3D View. I also hear a lot of happy lighters that finally spend the major part of their day on lighting instead of wasting it in optimizing their scenes, waiting for the renderer to start or tweaking blindly passes. As a former 3D Lighter, you can imagine how much those subjects are close to my heart. It's really rewarding and makes all that hard work worthwhile! I can tell you that, as CEO of Isotropix, I had my share of magical moments.
A very particular moment I remember happened after our first Siggraph in LA back in 2012. During one of our followup's we've ended up doing a private Clarisse demo at ILM. In the dailies room there were ILM big guys such as John Knoll. The kind of guys that made me want to work in this industry. Anyway, during our demo, one guy interrupted me and said: “Where can I buy this?”. At the time, I kindly replied we were only selling to studios and not to individuals. After our demo, that tall man approached me and grabbed my hand and things got weird: everyone just kept quiet trying to hear what he was telling me. “It's been 35 years I'm working here. 15 years ago I had a dream and you just made it happen. This is it! Thank you so much Sam, Thank you....” I learned later that man was Paul Huston.
fxg: How big is your R&D team?
Assadian: I publicly don't normally disclose that kind of information...but we have a core team of about ten people and we're ready to grow our team when the times come. The team spent many years designing the core of Clarisse as a next gen general purpose computer graphics application. The one thing that I can say is that, what can currently be seen in Clarisse iFX is just the tip of the iceberg of our core technology. Many features are still unreleased. It's either because it's not the right time yet or because they are still at a too early stage.
fxg: Your quotes in PR, key senior staff at Dneg, Mikros and ILM - is it used in production at Dneg and ILM - and can you give any examples?
Assadian: Yes but, I hope you'll understand why I can't share any detail with you yet. I can only say you've probably already seen some works using Clarisse without even knowing it. However, things are going to change in 2014. You'll be hearing more and more about Clarisse and, more importantly, seeing more work achieved with it.
fxg: Can you discuss the software interfacing or working in a pipeline with other programs ? Almost no software is an island these days and sharing files, models or complex file formats can be key.
Assadian: Pipeline integration is something we take very seriously here. Since the beginning, this area of our development is the constant background of our daily work. After all, the success of an application is not only based on its performance. To be successful, an application must be easily integrated into existing pipelines as well as be super extensible. When we've designed Clarisse, we knew it had to be as opened and as flexible as possible from input file format to scripting/SDK.
Clarisse file project description format is in ASCII. We've designed its syntax to be extremely simple to read (by a human or a program) while still being powerful. Actually, we were surprised to see the number of similarities it shares with Pixar's USD. However, Clarisse projects shares more with a scripting language than a descriptive file. It supports multi layered file referencing, versioning, overrides, inclusion, pre-processing and custom command directives that act as post-processors.
Actually, every single element that is created by the user is represented that way. If you select items in Clarisse and copy them to the clipboard, they can be pasted in a text editor or in a mail to be shared with another artist. There's virtually no difference between copying and pasting items in a text file and saving a project file. All of these, make Clarisse file description a very natural format to describe scenes in a pipeline. As a matter of fact, it is so flexible, we even use it to manage and describe our internal software development road map.
For historical reasons Clarisse supports open formats such as WaveFront OBJ and Ligthwave 3D LWO, LWS and MDD but we rapidly became interested in Alembic. Unlike FBX, there is no surprise: when importing an Alembic in your application, you really get what you exported from the other one (animation, geometries, fur, hair, particles, motion blur...). Logically, we've been early believers of Alembic and its support in Clarisse is very extensive. Clarisse was one of, if not the first, commercial 3D application to support Alembic 1.5.
According to our customers, Clarisse is the fastest 3D application when loading Alembic files. Since Alembic 1.5, Clarisse is even faster by an order of magnitude when compared to other 3D applications. (11 minutes to import for the best one vs 30 seconds in Clarisse) Prior to Alembic 1.5, access to Alembic data wasn't thread safe. In other words, Clarisse could not read and load geometry data from multiple threads at the same time. While this is not an issue for Maya/XSI or Max...as they read data from a single thread, Clarisse modern architecture is massively multi-threaded. It loads data in parallel and on a need to basis. Thanks to Lucas Miller from SPI and it's awesome work, using Alembic 1.5, we got speed ups that scale nearly linearly with the number of cores available in the machine!
Another important point in pipelines is image IO and we rely on the excellent Open Image IO library. Thanks to this library, Clarisse can export or import images that can virtually be of any formats along with their AOVs.
Finally, even if we've recently introduced scripting via Python, it is nevertheless very powerful. It gives access to many of Clarisse's internals. For example, users can generate geometries with it or develop their own user interface using either PyQt or Clarisse's graphical user interface library. In a way, except time and skill, nothing prevents a user from developping a basic polygonal modeler for Clarisse in pure Python.
All of these are the reason why we've marketed Clarisse 1.5 as “The rendering hub of your pipeline”
fxg: Can you outline the hair and fur advances ... and what's next?
Assadian: This past year, we've worked with several customers specialized in full 3D animation or 3D animated TV series. Usually those profiles are very excited by Clarisse and its interactive 2d/3d work flow. This feature allowing artists to work on the final comped image interactively.
On one of those projects (still in production), the customer was looking at rendering hair very realistically. Our R&D developed a new physically based hair material that we publicly released in 1.5. It gives really good results and its overhead is very small compared to our previous shader.
Another project involved many characters with very high fur density. Logically, our customer wanted to find a way to reduce to the minimum the number of 3D layers they used. Our R&D worked really hard on optimizing hair and fur memory usage. I can say, they did a pretty good job. Not only they managed to reduce its memory usage up to 10 times but they also manage to speed up rendering by 2. What's really important in the end is that our customer can render its shot in a single 3D layer!
Another problematic area with hair is its output file size. A human head is composed on average of 100K hair strands. If they're animated, it means 100K hair strands per frame. Add per-knot motion vectors and it's common to see hair files weighting several gigabytes per shot for a single character! Not only it takes massive storage space, but stresses a lot network traffic. To resolve this issue, we've implemented a hair/fur interpolate engine. Instead of loading a massive file, the basic idea behind this feature is to generate final hair directly in Clarisse from fewer animated curves. The hair/fur interpolate node has many attributes designed to control final hair shape and density. Instead of importing final hair, you import a lightweight Alembic file containing only a fraction of animated curves. Final hair is then generated using user driven interpolation during rendering. As a result, we managed to reduce down hair input file size from gigabytes to megabytes.
Before the release of 1.5 we were already working hard on 2.0. There are many new exciting things that are coming next. For our maintenance subscribers, these new features will come as regular monthly updates. As a matter of fact, we are on the verge of releasing our first maintenance release post 1.5. Here are some of the new upcoming features. First, we've added the support of Open Color IO for Clarisse color management. We've added more control to our scatterer. We've added an extensive occlusion shader to procedurally add dirt in materials. This feature alone saves hours of hand painted texture maps and UV unfolding. We've also worked on improving the rendering engine. Clarisse now supports double sided (symmetric and asymmetric) vector displacement. We've also improved one of our biggest hits amongst our users: the shading layers. One of the biggest features that's also coming is a very powerful file referencing system which supports incremental file update. To illustrate this, let's imagine you are referencing a file that has tons of geometries in it and someone just modified only one of them. Instead of reloading the entire file along with its geometries, Clarisse will only reload what has changed. In this case, it will be updated almost instantly as it will only update the geometry that has changed. Finally we've also enhanced Python scripting.
As for what's coming for 2014, what I can already tell is, there will be major improvements in
- anti aliasing,
- motion blur,
- depth of field and
- transparency speed,
- support for volume rendering and
- support for Open VDB.
A company video showing features in v 1.5.
Rendered on a i7 4770K (under $300)
"The video above is slightly speed up (roughly 1.4 times to be more dynamic). Of course, high quality render times were shorten for the sake of the video", commented Assadian. Final frame renders in about 2 hours @3102 x 2195 on the same machine
fxg: Can you discuss the company - you are a startup - how is it going? Your web site has a suggestion for people to invest ... how is the company financially, are you stable yet?
Assadian: Creating new technology is somewhat difficult. Designing a new professional product in our industry is very tricky. Releasing an ambitious game changing 3D application is a titanic and risky task. When you consider the later statement, I can say that things are going well. I think, Clarisse arrived at a pretty good time. There's a huge growing gap in the work flow and our product clearly fills it. Whatever the size of the studio, most of them see their work getting more and more complex with budgets that are shrinking or, in worse cases, stagnating.
Naturally, they look at ways to simplifies the work flow of their artists in order to improve productivity or reduce their production costs. Financially speaking, it's easy to understand how much they'd prefer to see their artists spend more of their time on lighting instead of optimizing memory. It other words, they want them to be more productive.
Interestingly, most artists share that very same idea but out of frustration this time. For them, it's way more rewarding to do the actual job than optimizing memory to circumvent software or hardware limitation. When you look at it, the source of that frustration is pretty interesting. There was a time in this industry when competition was healthy as it led to innovation. Nowadays, there is no more competition as most of the 3D software available in the market are under the same house.
This situation inevitably killed innovation and grew frustration amongst users. The sole innovation we've seen recently comes out repackaged proprietary tools coming from major studios (Nuke, MARI, Katana). If you just take a look at the market: excluding Clarisse, the youngest 3D application that was released by a vendor is now almost 10-year-old. Yet, at the time it was only a 3D modeling application.
As former artists, we logically felt frustrated by the tools we were using. We had a very strong idea of a new kind of application and we really felt no one would ever do it. That frustration and that belief led us to found Isotropix in 2009. We knew at the time it would take several years before having something that looked like the product we had in mind. We also knew it would take even longer to start having sustained revenues from our product. This is why we've decided to be backed by private investors from the beginning.
New Pricing - (quotes from the company press release):
The company has now decided to open up its products to a wider market to answer artists and small studios frustration. Isotropix introduces in its permanent range of products two node-locked licenses of Clarisse iFX and a new product, called CRender. Node-locked licenses, dedicated to freelancers and to small studios, are respectively available at the incredible prices of $ 999 and $ 1499. Announced at $459, CRender has been designed to address their needs to exclusively support rendering and is recommended for small to mid-sized studios. CNode, their more advanced product for render nodes, has seen its price reduced to $ 849. Finally, a large range of bundles of iFX and multiple CRender is also offered starting from $ 1999.
“From now on, every studios and 3D Artists can afford to create images with zillions of polygons interactively. They can benefit from a fully featured version of Clarisse with all its unique technologies without any compromise” said Houman Assadian, Sales Director at Isotropix.
"When we first tested Clarisse we were like kids in front of Santa. It was the first time we could directly work on the final image and play with so many polygons. We could test lots of stuffs…. Since, we use Clarisse for all digital sets we are working on.", -
Christophe Courgeau, Matte painting Supervisor at Mikros Image
Their product, Clarisse iFX, allows artists to create, in an unprecedented manner and at an incredible speed, life-like visually rich animated 3D CGI. Arvid Björn, 3D Lead at STOPP/POST PRODUCTION, declared: “The one thing I've always been missing in production is instant visual feedback, especially for layout and lighting, Clarisse offers precisely that, and it never buckles under pressure. For our latest project, Clarisse allowed us to create a fully detailed CG stadium asset with some 70,000 detailed crowd characters using over 400 texture files, in a very short time span, and with interactive render speeds.”
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