Folks at Siggraph ’97 on Wednesday were trying to make sense of the Microsoft-Apple Computers union.
Earlier in the day, Microsoft chairman-CEO Bill Gates and Apple co-founder/director Steve Jobs announced that the former will make a $150 million investment in the latter, with promises to work more closely together in future.
Apple may have lost the mass consumer market years ago, but it’s been a long and bitter battle with Microsoft Corp. for the entertainment industry’s professional users — many of whom continue to cram the floors of the L.A. Convention Center for Siggraph, which runs through Friday.
Many attendees were pleased that, perhaps, Apple and Microsoft working together would bring technological benefits that a warring duo might neglect to exploit.
“I certainly think that more choice and opportunity is much better than less or none,” said Peter Goldie of Alias/Wavefront. “And clearly (Microsoft’s) NT is finally growing up enough to embrace certain parts of the business, so that should help a great deal.”
Goldie was referring to Windows NT — the high-octane version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The system is on the lips and the minds of virtually everyone at Siggraph.
Once dismissed by Hollywood’s computer-effects wizards and digital post-production honchos, Windows NT is slowly replacing the venerable Macintosh system as the platform of choice for middle- and entry-level post houses and effects shops, TV stations and production companies and software developers alike.
“It’s hard not to acknowledge that Bill Gates is going to spend whatever it takes to make NT a viable platform,” remarked Sony Digital Studios president Ken Williams, whose post-production and production gear is NT-capable. “And it doesn’t make much commercial sense to plan or design your gear to run counter to that sort of commitment.”
Even Silicon Graphics, the esteemed purveyor of hardware and software to the highest ranks of the computer graphics (CG) community, is feeling the NT heat. One of its affiliates, Cosmo Software, unveiled a line at Siggraph of totally NT-based programs for effects, 3-D modeling and on-line editing that will eventually be fully compatible with existing SGI gear and software.
In any case, growing customer demand for NT software is assuring that, with or without Apple, Microsoft has worked its way to the showbiz table.
“We’ve had tons of user requests for (NT software), and you have to follow the market every time,” said Erica Schisler, product marketing manager for Adobe. “You’re going to see a huge movement towards NT by lower-range users over the next year or so.”
The announcement of the investment was made at MacWorld Boston — a Macintosh/Apple hardware/software convention being held concurrently with the L.A. Convention Center gathering.
Next to the massive Apple-Microsoft movement, another important trend is developing at Siggraph: a significant push toward motion-capture systems.
That involves the digital capturing of the motion of 3-D bodies, including human and animal ones. It is being hotly pursued because it holds the key to solving one of digital imaging’s most knotty problems: how to faithfully render motion through space.
Polyhemus Corp., which is heavily involved in 3-D motion capture work for such high-profile clients as the U.S. military, has seen its relatively modest Siggraph booth swamped with both the curious and the hungry this year.
“People are asking for real-time capturing that they don’t have to clean up every time,” remarked Polyhemus’ Bill Panepinto. “There’s this feeling that we’re all getting close to some really outstanding results.”
Thus it comes as little surprise that the Convention Center floor was bristling with leotard-clad female acrobats with odd devices attached to their extremities, moving in an eerie counterpoint with their digitally-rendered twins on suspended monitors.
“This is just a little too tai chi for me,” remarked one digital artist to a friend as they stood before one such demo. “What I really want to see is body parts flying realistically about.”
In other Siggraph news:
- East-West Capital Associates Inc., a venture capital firm founded by prominent industry figure Merv Adelson, this week announced that it has taken a $5 million stake in Cinebase Software Inc,. makers of computer software that manages digital info for film, television, post-production and digital f/x processes.
As digital technology explodes in the entertainment industry, Adelson’s equity investment in Cinebase underscores the growing need for broadcast and production companies to more efficiently archive and track computer data. The digital media management software will also enable companies to more easily repurpose and resell its existing digital content, creating new revenue streams.
- Santa Monica-based POP, one of the industry’s busiest post/effect houses, has hired European CG ace Paul Lacombe to head CG development for its animation division generally and for its “Disney’s One Saturday Morning” project specifically.
- Kodak’s Professional Motion Imaging unit has hired Chris Steele, a veteran engineer/manager for Avid Technology and Parallax Software, as director of software engineering. Steele will be responsible for the Cineon digital film portfolio at Kodak.