CGSociety has very great pleasure in presenting the Top 20 list for 2011. In collating this retrospective as voted by you, the CGSociety community, we called out for nominations between November 8 and December 23 on a thread especially opened on CGTalk. Items could be anything related to the Computer Graphics industry. It could be software releases, new hardware, movies, games, short films, in fact any product that made our lives better or filled us with awe while in the pursuit and creation of better CG and VFX. Over 12,200 people viewed and contributed to the thread and now, at the start of the next adventure in 2012, we can present the 2011 Retrospective Top 20 article.
Just scraping into the running is the Blizzcon 2011 cinematic. It was created by Blizzard for the Diablo 3 Black Soulstone game. Oh geez, what are people doing to animators these days? How on Earth the pretty girl stays so clean and so nonplussed about the rock monster (yes, another one) with the fire in his belly. [Yeah, I know. It's fiction.]
This is undoubtedly a truly spectacular cinematic from a team that knows how to create some magical visuals. But the concepts behind them all need a re-invention. They nearly all consist of deep gutteral narration over stormy grey destruction. There’s even an LOTR fiery mountain in the distance and orcs all over the place. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing the final product, with perhaps the empty hope that the game graphics will be anything like the cinematic.
The Beta program for Chaos Group’s V-Ray 2.0 for Maya began in March, with a rush of additional modifiers available. For instance, with the V-Ray 2.0 Sun and Sky system, a simple lighting system can be switched on and tweaked for direction color and intensity. Interactive rendering, an RT engine is also introduced, set to run on both CPUs and GPUs.
Python scripts are now accepted, meaning a more direct connection is available for V-Ray to the production pipeline. Also, you don’t have to worry about UV co-ordinates and use PTex textures with V-Ray 2.0. There are many major internal optimisations to the very core of V-Ray. Version 2.0 is able to render dynamic geometry like fur and hair, proxies and displacement geometry much faster than before.
There certainly seems to be a rise in popularity in the use of Houdini. Perhaps it has been the announcements surrounding the beta of version 12, its deals with DreamWorks and other studios and a deeper penetration into the streamline industry. Hats off to marketing. Sometimes a great product just needs to be shouted about before people 'get it'. The User Group Meetings at Vancouver and Hong Kong were particularly popular, with more info being released about the features in some impressive case studies.
Operators and Digital Assets will have built-in versioning, and as well as boasting an 80% power saving during operation over the present version, Houdini 12 will have a performance monitor which has a heat map option for finding nodes which are slowing you down.
Some people are happy to see the back of Harry, but there is still a great fondness for the effort and new technologies employed to create the effects in the film series. But it has to come to a head at some point and this was it. Think of the computer graphics technology advances shown on the first Potter, compared to this 3D extravaganza, with the bleeding edge pushed to its limit, and the studio crews brought forward on its wake.
Splitting the final book into two films was first considered a bit of a long bow. Comedic online news station The Onion even parodied the idea by pushing the rumor the last few minutes of Part Two would then be spun off into a series of seven further movies. There is something about Harry!
This modeling application was developed by programmer Tomas Pettersson as a hobby, back in his home country of Sweden in late 2009. Just one year later he was head-hunted and taken under the wings of the Pixologic team down in Hollywood, USA. Tomas has been busy developing the software in his new home with the team ever since.
I do think it is rather impressive that a product which is still in ‘Alpha 6’ stage of development has wrangled such a respectable number of votes here. I've also heard rumors the next version of ZBrush will be making use of some Sculptris technologies.
When news of L.A.Noire first came out, the idea behind the game was a complex detective story. Single player, nothing special. One look at the plates and promotionals coming out of Team Bondi in Sydney (then part of Rockstar Games) brought renewed interest. The performance capture for the faces of the people in the game were tremendously real. Textures and period costumes, story arcs and character development are all top level work. It is such a pity there was such a bad after-taste to the release of the game from the controversies surrounding the studio treatment of staff during production. Whatever undue pressure the artist crew were under, the finished game should be taken down to forensic for prints cos the final result is pretty impressive stuff. Book 'em Dano!
Being stuck on a dying planet after a massive meteor strike is supposed to be fun and exciting. Exciting because it is built on the company's latest proprietary engine, id Tech 5, perhaps. Well, it's exciting for players who like to run (or drive a buggy) around shooting the undead in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I think it's just the burnt up landscape environment that is part of the 'charm'. There is nothing new in this. It's just really well done. There are characters, textures, lighting tricks and levels just like this in Fallout 3 and other games like 'Metro 2033'. Like 'Portal 2' below, in the number '13' spot, rage is just a whole of fun and can be exciting for a while, before one gets bored and goes off to read more Dostoyevsky, play their Stradivarius and admire their fluffy pony collection...
Valve Software has done it again. Using Portal 2's portal gun, the game makers have extended the gameplay in this new adventure. Like no other game on the market, Portal 2 has thrown the player into a diabolical labyrinth of test chambers run by an insane computer AI named GLaDOS. The players aim is to use the gun to solve puzzles and escape from their prison. They meet similarly trapped characters along the way who either help or hinder their voyage through the tunnels.
Portal 2 is based on the same engine technology that drove the Left 4 Dead 2 and Team Fortress 2 games. This Source engine uses a pre-computed method of calculating radiosity lighting in the different levels and bakes them into lightmaps. This method created some of the most startlingly visuals in the new game. Having won Game of the Year three years ago for Portal, Valve is pipped for Game of the Year in 2012, it seems ready to match the original game for popularity.
When Steve Jobs signed out in early October, it was like someone I'd been close to had died. In a way it was true. The man was a visionary. Look around you. iMacs, the MacBook Pro, the iPhone and now the iPad are a part of most modern crowds in the developed world. He took a unused division of ILM that he saw the possibilities in and built an animation studio called Pixar.
With the iPod, he reinvigorated people's apetite for personal music on the go. His influence in our world of computer graphics, product design, film, music and media in general was more than ground breaking. Steve Jobs was responsible for flipping industries on their head, for their own benefit.
The Apes, chimps, orangatans and other primates in Rise of the Planet of the Apes were beautifully recreated from a mass of performance capture and utterly brilliant animation by the team from Weta Digital. They were also using a good relationship with the Wellington Zoo for reference work and ape skin textures. Complex lighting matrices were also heavily applied to many hundreds of shots.
The Golden Gate Bridge sequence was shot on location in Vancouver, the practical section had to be extended and the environment recreated. Hundreds of CG chimps were jumping on practical and CG vehicles and interacting with people and police. This required onset motion capture, tracking the motion of the actors who were playing the chimps.
Building on the legacy of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Arkham City game is set inside a sprawling mega-prison in the heart of Gotham City. This is of course "filled with thugs, gangsters and insane criminal masterminds,” reads the official press release. Soon enough, of course, all hell breaks loose. The work done by the Rocksteady artists is brilliant. If you have any great passion for doing CSI detective work in a black leather cape and hood, please feel free.
Rocksteady Games worked some of the characters from Warner Bros. and DC Comics, to recreate and extend the story seen in the classic comic series. Complete with a running commentary, to aid in the chase, Arkham City has hours of plot, twisting and taking sharp turns as it unwinds. Very impressed with the sprawling environments and the seemingly endless weather squalls introduced at key moments.
In August the Crytek crowd made their SDK available to all for free. Anyone could download a full version of the best All-In-One Game Development Engine. You could, and can use CryENGINE 3 for free in educational facilities, even if you are charging tuition. No wonder their SDK is so popular. The free SDK contains all the features of the commercial version, including sample codes from Crysis 2.
But it can only be used for non-commercial purposes, meaning any mods or games you create will have to be given away for free as well, but Crytek knows it will get more people using its engine and tools. For up and coming developers, it's a chance to get some experience under their belt, while those with previous knowledge can use one of the best engines out there with the knowledge they have to pay a fee later if they want to take their work to market. Thing is, I'm not sure how this will be policed.
First reports on the 3D graphics on Elders Scroll V: Skyrim were that they were totally amazing. Textures and lighting were easily some of the best seen in a game. Others compare it with the graphics rendered out in Crysis 1. One feature going for it is the sprawling storyline. I haven't seen so many dungeons and dragons since, well, Dungeons and Dragons.
There's plenty of surprises and the environments are pretty special. I have a confession; I did not see this coming at all. The crew at Bethesda one day just released this and everyone was talking about it. I didn't realise the community would consider this such an epic. Fus Ro Dah!!
Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3 and the horsepower of three NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards were demonstrated in the production of the Samaritan Real Time Demo, revealed at the Game Developers Conference in March 2011. All collected in real time using DirectX 11, full artist-controllable Bokeh Depth of Field was shown in the first few seconds, as was tessellation and displacement, geometry shaders, multi sampled textures and Shader Model 5. Very impressive.
Epic Games also collaborated with NVIDIA to implement APEX physics technology, which was admirably illustrated by the dynamic clothing movement in 'Samaritan.' Other APEX features include turbulence and real-time destructibility.
Electronic Arts and DICE brings into action the new Frostbite 2 game engine, bringing technology into play bringing advanced visual quality, with great scale and massive destruction and character animation, delivered with 5.1 change dynamic. In fact, the animation was created with the same ANT technology that EA had constructed the motion capture for the FIFA games.
Dynamic global illumination, streaming architecture and fully deferred shading brings the Battlefield out of the dark in Battlefield 3. The destruction shown in the battles of Battlefield are full of those shivering explosions with disintegrating walls and extensive fiery flash pots, complete with tons of dust.
Naughty Dog has done it again this year, releasing another totally beautifully modeled instalment to the UNCHARTED franchise. They brought in a great new team of artists for UNCHARTED 3, some with iridescent performances in previous appointments at Ubisoft, Blur Studio, EA-Bioware and other outfits. The results in UC3 were, of course, superb with impressive ageing on each character from UNCHARTED 2. Also new locations, weapons, vehicles and all rendered out on the latest development engine.
It seems only yesterday that Ballistic worked with the guys at the Dog on The Art of the Game book 'Uncharted 2' which covers off the research undertaken for the title. Even though this is in the same franchise, the word is the production was recreated from the ground up. Superb effort. No wonder UC3 hit the high spot on this list.
It is amazingly great to see the Open Source apps bringing in such impressive figures for popularity over the past year. This can mean two things are happening. There are more artists taking advantage of cheaper (free) software, and that software is kicking some goals in quality. Delivering more of what the better artists require to do their work, and play. Otherwise, there’d be all kinds of bad press.
The Blender Foundation have consistently pushed out shorts to display the talent of the artists using it, but also, in creating this free entertainment creation software, has paved the way for more talent to enter the industry. And that cannot be a bad thing.
Speilberg and Jackson working on Tintin, an animated feature, is an interesting mixup, with creativity and hopefully story-telling being the winner. Same as Animation director Andrew Stanton working on John Carter and Brad Bird working on Mission Impossible 4. One of the most enjoyable parts of the Tintin film is that they have succeeded in cracking the dead eyes problem.
Polar Express was the road we all had to go down before crawling out of the uncanny valley. All these directors (including James Cameron and Bob Zemeckis) have the technologists, VFX crews and animators to thank for this tremendous leap in the cinematic cross bar.
Pixologic was clearly thrilled to release ZBrush 4R2 in 2011, bringing DynaMesh, Insert Brushes and new Curve Brushes to speed up the work artists just need to do. GoZ and ZAppLink is also part of the release. ZBrush 4 had indeed been a long time on the workbench, although it is plain to see the leaps and strides available in the new release.
We all now get on with our work while they tempt us with further moves towards version 5.0. I think 2012 is the year this will happen. Keep watching the ZBrush Central forums and CGTalk's ZBrush forum thread of course.
Industrial Light and Magic surprised a lot of us with their entry, execution and brilliant result in the Rango animated feature. Director Gore Verbinski brings slapstick and colorful adventures together with gutsy, almost grotesque characters. This appeals to a wide range of audiences because it has everything else the demographic is attracted to.
The performance capture decision for the actor’s nuances certainly helped and the realistic, sweaty and grimy finish on the magnificent characters made this very much a new style of film, no matter what has been said about the story.
Magnificent work from all concerned.