• CGSociety :: Special Feature

    2 January 2013, by Paul Hellard

    CGSociety is very pleased to present the Top 20 list for 2012. In collating this traditional retrospective as voted by you, the CGSociety community, we called out for nominations between November 5 and December 22 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 4,130 people viewed and contributed to the thread and now, at the start of this next exciting year, we present the 2012 Retrospective Top 20.



    While this wasn't large on my radar, the 38 Studios debacle over on Rhode Island has slid into the Top 20 by the slimmest of margins.  The story was hitting the USA headlines at the opening of the list, so I can imagine this is why it made it on. Here's the background.

    The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) filed a lawsuit, trying to recover the $100 million it'd handed to a team of game studio execs, allegedly under prepared to correctly allocate funds for the survival of the complex business. The complaint also says that the company was "undercapitalised by many millions of dollars," and that the project was, "going to run out of money in 2012." The 17-count suit was filed only one day before the two-year cut-off. Yet another entertainment company run by shonky accountants.


    Source Filmmaker is a story-telling tool made inside the Source Engine at Valve Software by the crew of technologists and artists. They've condensed their entire animation pipeline down to run on a gaming PC. Using the Source Filmmaker means game makers can make all their movies on location, inside the game world.

    This 3D world of the video game combines the worlds of cinematography, animation and film editing. Add cameras, pose characters, tune lights, all without leaving the context of the show for the final audience. The video game world will become a massive backlot for people to rebuild the world as their own new creative exploration. The Source Filmmaker is now in beta.





    The Foundry pushed NUKE 7 out the door in early December and the compositing world lit up to the biggest release to date. NUKE 7.0 comes with a host of polished and perfected tools for day-to-day workflows, and there are new additions to complement its highly acclaimed feature set.

    NUKE 7.0 is packed with RAM cache to give artists real-time playback and a variety of GPU accelerated nodes for NUKEX including MotionBlur, Kronos, Denoise, VectorGenerator, Convolve and ZDefocus. Day to day compositing the way you want it. With entirely redefined roto tools, Primatte 5, the new 2D tracker, support for new camera raw formats and improvements to the SplineWarp tool and DopeSheet. Artists can now relight renders in the comp environment using the ReLight node and even model using NUKEX's new ModelBuilder. NUKE 7.0 will streamline workflow with a number of additions to the Deep Compositing workflow.


    One of the most enthralling sessions at SIGGRAPH Asia last month was by Hugues Ricour, Ubisoft Senior Producer and Georges Torres, Senior Technical Director for Assassin's Creed, who took us through the physics engine creation for Assassin’s Creed 3, which includes sea battles on real-time generated game oceans.

    An amazing leap into the wet stuff, with depth, mass, wind and damage to the vessels. Sure there are usual leaping from street to buildings, but the marine confrontations have to be played to be believed.




    The Nintendo Wii U was released around the end of November as the eighth generation of game platforms. This one has been a long time coming, with the rather familiar looking GamePad borrowed from the DS design. While this incarnation of game player looks pretty much the same as the Wii, the beefed up processor inside stops any further comparison.

    However, with the announcement of this additional piece of hardware I can't get past the fact that I'm looking at yet another grey plastic box that does the same as the last grey plastic box. Once again, I am beginning to think the only reason this made it on to the Top 20 is because it was released around the time of the vote. Yawn.



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    About a year ago, the first shots of the tiles of Windows 8 were shown on the web. With the launch of the new operating system, Microsoft has promoted the ease of use, but the users and reviewers have torn it all down again with streams of critical words. 'Dead on Arrival' springs to mind.

    Another reviewer said they felt MS was treating the user base like they had an IQ of eight, big fingers and only mainstream interests to pursue. One would have thought the best thing to do was to try and get Vista and Win 7 right before moving the deck chairs around on a new version. Personally, I'm sitting on the sidelines on that other operating system that just works.




    Hundreds of artists at Cinesite, Double Negative and the Moving Picture Company toiled away creating big green aliens and visual effects for Andrew Stanton's first live-action movie. So many of our own community worked on this epic tale. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'Princess of Mars' as a child and although I see many critics ripped into this movie adaption, I loved every minute of it.

    Filmed in the Utah desert and on sound stages in London, the story is set soon after America’s civil war. John Carter [Taylor Kitsch], a dispirited veteran, finds himself teleported to Mars, a planet with two warring tribes of people that look something like him, the Zodangans and Heliumites played by actors, and more alien-looking, four-armed, noseless green-skinned humanoids called Tharks, which are always CG characters based on actors’ performances.


    There were a total of 16 VFX studios working on various aspects of The Avengers. With a stable of six major super-heroes on screen, each with their own powers to display in CG, the challenge was pretty super. The story was classic comic strip, immensely entertaining and the work kept a lot of studios not just busy, but excited, focused and enthused about the year ahead.

    Out of this production, several smaller studios have gained enough industry traction to expand into larger projects. This is a great result and keeps the momentum of niche studio VFX rolling.

    Australia's Animal Logic post production house bought the assets of Fuel VFX after the company went into voluntary administration in August. This is great news for the country's industry because it means FuelVFX can hang on to some great talent. Working on Prometheus, The Avengers and many other top line features, FuelVFX will now become the short form VFX post-production house, while Animal Logic will continue in feature animation.

    All five founding members of the Fuel VFX board will stay on at the company. Jason Bath, Dave Morley, Paul Butterworth, Andrew Hellen and Simon Maddison are working with Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian on a number of major projects for the new year. At last. A good news story.



    In a buy-up that was long in the making, heavily rumoured on CGTalk and discussed among the Exotic Matter customer base, Autodesk indeed confirmed the purchase of the high-end fluid simulation software Naiad. Much like the inventor/founders of Skymatter's Mudbox when Autodesk bought that in 2007, Marcus Nordenstam and Robert Bridson have joined Autodesk in a consultant capacity. Bridson also will continue as a professor of Scientific Computing/Computer Graphics at the University of British Columbia.

    Autodesk has taken the technology and it has already been instigated into 3ds Max and other software offerings within the Autodesk stable. This has been followed up by taking Naiad off the market in its present form.

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    The Fabric Engine team has released an exclusive preview of a new real-time renderer for production environments. To be clear, this is not a game engine - it tackles many of the same tasks, but it is designed to work directly in film and VFX production workflows. The Renderer was built with Fabric Engine's core technologies, Creation Platform, which launched at SIGGRAPH 2012, and Creation's underlying multi-threading engine is called the Fabric Core Execution Engine.

    The renderer already supports thousands of lights, post effects (bloom), and dynamic shadow casting lights. The beta program is in full swing right now.



    Flying into a black and white cityscape in what looks like the mid sixties, this charming short follows the lives of two city workers. The premise is the shy worker, being guided in his pursuits by a cupid piece of paper.

    John Kahr's story is tried, but at the same time completely refreshing. Screening as a short before Wreck it Ralph, the production of Paperman successfully melds hand-drawn 2D character animation with the dramatic realities of 3D form.
    The style is fairly specific, but fits the theme and story beautifully. Kahr is now working on color stories using similar techniques.




    Yann Martel's quaint book has finally made it to the screen. Rhythm & Hues in India took the reins and mastered this immense project in just under ten years from script to screen. Using the most impressive CG creature creation techniques, what has been served up is a stunning bit of cinema. This is not a movie to wait for DVD release.

    MPC had to deliver full digital oceans under hurricane type conditions. In total, this represented almost 12 minutes of digital storm in native 3D with waves that were 45 feet high, 820 feet long, with a lot of sprays, mist and white water everywhere.


    For Pixologic's latest update for ZBrush, the creators have further simplified the process of modifying basic topology. The task of building optimised base meshes has been simplified with Loop functions and Polygrouping features. The QRemesher and a See-Through mode add extra streamlining for artists requiring final art fast.


    ZBrush 4R5 arrived fairly quickly after 4R4 but as mentioned, there are no costs involved in upgrading licenses of the Pixologic product. That's value right there.




    There's nothing worse than having a great story in your head and not being able to fund the story as a short film or even as a full feature film production. Especially when you see large studios taking years and millions of dollars to drag bad stories thru to screens, losing millions when they flop.

    Kickstarter has made it possible for creatives to bring the ideas to public recognition, and gather funding the social way. These past few months, I've seen so many story ideas being pushed. Not just by small unknowns but also studios I thought would have the funds available in petty cash. Good luck to them all.

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    Blender has been with us a few years and its great to see the popularity of this open source, free 3D software isn't waning.

    "Highlights for Blender 2012 included the release of a complete VFX creation pipeline, tested and used in the short open source film 'Tears of Steel'. Blender now supports footage masking, 2D and 3D motion tracking, better green-screen options, full integration of OpenColorIO color management, and updated fully threadable tile-based compositor. Blender's new render engine 'Cycles' became production ready, and was extended with full ('Sony Imageworks') OpenShading language support in the last release of 2012." - Ton Roosendaal.




    On a story side, Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit' was true to the text in the book to a certain extent. But what interested most people at our screening was the tech behind the crystal clear imagery.
    'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' was always going to be a milestone movie. If not for anything else but the fact it was to be the first digital 3D stereo movie shown at 48 frames per second. Recognized as a new horizon move to pull audiences back into the cinema, the High Frame Rate in ‘The Hobbit’ gave some sequences a clarity some viewers adored, some hated. The immense VFX work was definitely aided by this additional clarity in the action sequences. More frames of Orc battles per second made the action and landscapes leap out of the screen. Still, these are early days and the very best crews are still working to perfect what is the next stage in visual entertainment.



    In early September, all of Digital Domain Media Group's (DDMG) Port St. Lucie's operations, including Tradition Studios, was shut down, laying off nearly 300 employees working on future projects. DDMG defaulted on a $35 million dollar loan and sold Digital Domain and Mothership to Beijing Galloping Horse America and Reliance MediaWorks. Galloping Horse holds a 70% stake and Reliance MediaWorks a 30% stake.  It's important to remember that Digital Domain artists have been recognized with seven Academy Awards: three for Best Visual Effects (Titanic, What Dreams May Come, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and four for Scientific and Technical Achievement for its proprietary technology. Their work has also been nominated for five Academy Awards and they've won multiple BAFTA Awards. Digital Domain's Advertising division has been awarded 34 Clio Awards, 22 AICP awards, eight Cannes Lion Awards and numerous other advertising honors.




    It was in the middle of September that Luxology and The Foundry announced their merger. This melded The Foundry’s award winning 2D and 3D visual effects software and Luxology’s unique 3D modeling and rendering technology together under one group umbrella. The new company’s flagship products are NUKE and modo.

    What they will do first reflects the philosophy of both sides of the new company. Perhaps the future holds MARI Texturing in modo. How about the modo render in NUKE. We shall see. “Part of the fun of making this announcement is that we can now talk openly to our customers,” says Simon Robinson, chief scientist for The Foundry. “There’s a long road to travel to make these connections right between the products. We need to go and ask our customers what they want.”




    Out of nowhere, the Mouse House has taken control of the Darth Star. More of a show business story than a technology story, the four billion dollar sale of Lucasfilm (with LucasArts, Skywalker Sound and ILM) means that, as Mr Lucas said, “I want to put the company into the hands of some people who can protect it.”  Built over 35 years, George Lucas of course owned the company 100 percent, so there wasn’t a shareholder deliberation. While Lucas can now comfortably retire, selling to a gigantic publicly-traded corporation may not actually be the ideal way to ‘protect’ something that you personally treasure. But many readers know of the list of movie and game projects now in production that will convince any further drastic changes in direction for the company. Use the force, Lucasfilm.


    The full list of items compiled by the community this year was generated in the thread promoted for the purpose on CGTalk. The CG Top 20 list is a result of public voting in that thread which was open for six weeks, from the 3rd November through til the 23rd December. If an item is not on the list, it wasn't suggested by the thousands of people who viewed that thread.

    As the process of compiling and voting was public, there was and is no conspiracy or bias from the CGSociety towards any items listed in this year's Top 20.

    2012 - The 'What was that?!' year.

    The CGSociety community has voted for the Top 20 most exciting, industry shaking CG events, films, games, VFX software and technologies. Many studios closed down, though there have been just as many companies expanding and excelling, bringing product to the cinemas and consoles. The market is still hungry, perhaps with burgeoning new sectors (mobile casual games), so the need to produce quality content will always be present. The very talented team here at Ballistic Media wish you all the very best for 2013.


    Paul Hellard
    Editor, CGSociety


    20- 38 Studios case
    19- Source Filmmaker
    18- The Foundry NUKE 7
    17- Assassin's Creed
    16- Nintendo Wii U
    15- Microsoft Windows 8
    14- John Carter
    13- Marvel's The Avengers
    12- Animal Logic Fuel VFX
    11- Autodesk buys Naiad
    10- Fabric Engine
    09- Disney's Paperman
    08- Life of Pi
    07- Pixologic ZBrush 4R5
    06- Kickstarter
    05- Blender 2.65
    04- The Hobbit
    03- Digital Domain
    02- Luxology and The Foundry merge
    01- Disney buys Lucasfilm







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