MAXON's CINEMA 4D and BodyPaint 3D have been used in the films Spider-Man 3, Surf's Up, Ghost Rider, Open Season, Pirates of the Caribbean, Monster House, Eragon, Superman Returns, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Sony Pictures upcoming blockbuster film, "Beowulf", recognized for its facial animation, detailed textures, and artistic lighting by the SIGGRAPH 2007 jury, is also using MAXON products.
MAXON has also surged ahead in the area of motion graphics for such shows as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Comedy Central, ESPN, NFL Network, NBC, DirecTV, CBS NFL and Fox.
Currently MAXON and Adobe are partnering on The Power Integration Tour to demonstrate how to combine the power of Adobe's Production Suite CS3 and MAXON's CINEMA 4D in creating motion graphics.
On the last day of SIGGRAPH 2007, Marsha Carlson had the pleasure of interviewing MAXON President and CEO, Paul Babb, at the San Diego Convention Center.
Marsha Carlson - MAXON seems particularly responsive to user's needs with continual and rapid upgrades. CINEMA 4D R10 includes well over 183 new features and updates. How does that user feedback get channeled back to MAXON so effectively?
Paul Babb - There are several channels. One is a form on the MAXON web site where you can request features you would like to see. We also stay in touch with animators who are pushing the product to its limits and finding new ways of doing things. Sometimes we will make movies of people to capture their workflow and study that. All that is taken back to MAXON developers in Germany. We combine all this feedback and look for ways to make the workflow easier.
With things that are not in so much demand as to merit being developed as a new feature, our VP of Operations, Rick Barrett, will often whip up tools and create an icon and post them on the Cineversity site. He'll do this especially for the motion graphics people.
Recently, we have also added a reporting system to C4D that if there is a stall or a problem a very extensive report will go back to MAXON's quality assurance department. We can now get an immediate response to any issues users might be having, This reporting system is making the product much more stable and robust for the user. In the last year it has taken the program a lot further. We can get a call from someone and we can go into the database and see exactly what was going on.
MC: So MAXON is really about customers being able to pull what they need from MAXON rather than having it be a push from you?
PB: I don't know how else you would do it in this business. The users are in the program all day long and we aren't. They know it better than we do. We need them to tell us what they need.
MC: This kind of responsiveness seems connected to the way MAXON as a company is managed. I have read that MAXON as a company has a 'flat' organizational structure. Could you tell us how MAXON operates?
PB: Nemetschek AG, a publicly traded company, is our grandparent with MAXON GmbH in Germany as our parent company. Here in the United States, MAXON Computer, Inc. operates like an entrepreneur, running our own business. MAXON is not very vertically structured. There's a very hands-off approach from Germany. This helps because our market here in the States is different, being very community based and very much about motion graphics right now. In the European market, it's a lot more about architecture.
MC: There's a dramatic increase in the use of motion graphics in broadcast. Every time you turn on the television, we are seeing these fabulous displays. What makes those few seconds so compelling?
PB: The images are generating an emotional response that pulls you into the show. It's about creating an experience going in so the audience will already be receptive to the nightly news, a comedy or a drama. Each show has a personality and the motion graphics can convey that up front.
With The Power Integration Tour with Adobe we have an artist, Rob Garrott, owner of Bending Pixel Studios, working with us. Rob does work for Fox and NBC. At first we were trying to create literal demos for the tour in order to demonstrate features of the products. Rob, on the other hand, was trying to keep the work less literal and create an emotional, expressive quality to create atmosphere for the audience.
For one of the demos we created a storyboard of a highway with billboards as though you were driving into a city. When we first created the storyboard, we had a real highway, with billboards with posts and real cars and real structures. When Rob got involved he changed our approach. The highway then became a series of rapidly moving white and red lights, representing headlights and tail lights.
When I first saw the demo I thought, this is too fast, but Rob explained that it was more about the impression being created. We wanted to see how all these things were being built, while Rob was concerned with the audience's experience. Rob helped us understand the in the mind of the audience they would read that it was a highway just from the moving lights.
MC: That feeds into the research being done on NPR or Non Photorealism. The human brain knows what things look like and will fill it in, without the detail. Both Joe Marks from Disney and Glenn Entis from Electronic Arts in talks at SIGGRAPH, mentioned that they are moving in the direction of NPR.
PB: For years the packages were beating on Photorealism, now that is changing. There's now more push towards an artist's approach. We have had Photorealism coming out of our ears. Everybody can do it. Now the shift is back to the way an artist looks at things, It's more impressionistic and expressive.
When you look at movies like Shrek and Polar Express, there's something emotionally disturbing about the realism. But when you look at a Pixar film that doesn't use Photorealism, the mind is more accepting of the image.
MC: How did The Power Integration Tour come about?
PB: For about three years we've been working on the integration of the Adobe CS3 Suite of products with MAXON products. We found a lot of people were using our products with Adobe in their workflow and not just Adobe, but also Final Cut Pro, Shake and Combustion. So we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to take their work out of 3D and into a 2D package in a really flexible manner.
We render things out in passes with objects coming in separately so artists can make modifications in 2D. The savings in time are astronomical. A three hour render in Cinema becomes a 3 minute render out of After Effects. So artists can create much more dramatic and amazing effects for the 3D part of it and still make changes flexibly in 2D later on. That's one of the reasons you are seeing all the dazzling motion graphics. People can create them faster than ever before.
MC: How did the conversation get started with Adobe?
PB: The first person to approach us was Steve Whatley, one of Adobe's product evangelists, who approached MAXON. He's out on the road doing demos all the time and he was looking for ways of bringing in more people. We said to him, we're about product integration, we don't just want to do a demo, we want to show them something practical from beginning to end. Then we talked about doing a roadshow and the folks at Adobe approved a certain number of cities.
The feedback from the first five shows has been terrific. 90% of those attending said they would come to another, 9% said and maybe and 1% said no. We are going to contact that 1% and change their mind.
MC: The new release of Cinebench R10 is getting a positive response in the forums. How did that product come about?
PB: Cinebench was originally designed for our own use, but we began getting calls from other companies that wanted to use it to benchmark their own tools. They were impressed that they could put a score on their product to see how they were performing against other hardware.
When it was created it was used internally to find out how the ray tracer was performing and it helped to optimize that. Then the developers suddenly realized, 'Hey, we can put a score on this and make it useful to others. So we started offering it to Boxx Technologies, Intel and AMD. A lot of press people are using it as well, so that when a product comes out they can score it.
Cinebench takes the hardware through Open GL, with or without hardware acceleration, and will give you a score on a single or a multiprocessor. It can show you what you are getting out of a piece of hardware. It's exciting for us to see it being used by others.
Motorcycle model used Cinebench render test
MC: Any new products coming down?
PB: We are always moving forward. I am always impressed by our development team and amazed at what they can do in a short amount of time. My father was a programmer, so that's part of my appreciation for how the developers are constantly moving the product along.
MC: What's been happening at the MAXON booth this week?
PB: Since Adobe doesn't have a booth at SIGGRAPH, we did a short demonstration of The Power Integration Tour. We invited high end users from different industries to demonstrate.
We had Sony Pictures Imageworks showing some of the work for Surf's Up. We had Reality Check, the premier motion graphics house, showing their work. The one you saw was medical animation by Hybrid Medical, showing how they created custom set ups and scripts for articulated cells for a pharmaceutical company.
Kory Jones of Reality Check
MC: The list of films using C4D is getting longer all the time. Are there any that you would give special mention?
PB: Sony is deep into the upcoming Beowulf right now. We hear that there is some incredible texture work and environment creation that we should be seeing soon.
MC: Would you talk about MAXON's partnership with nVIDIA?
PB: nVIDIA is amazing. We don't even have to pursue them. They are constantly bringing boards to us. They are just so pro active. nVIDIA is helping to sponsor The Power Integration Tour and have allowed us to give away a board in every city. They gave us several boards to give away at SIGGRAPH. They are so supportive of customers.
nVidia display at SIGGRAPH
MC: The future of computer graphics is user generated. Would you talk about that?
PB: I think this work has always been artist generated. The same goes for the studios. The studios owe the credit to the artists. I had a friend who was in the production industry and he ended up working on a few special effects. After that he told me, "Now I know what you do for a living. It doesn't really have that much to do with the tools. It's the guy using the tool that's important." I told him that was exactly right, You can give an artist a rock and a stick and they can make art.
Because the cost of these tools is getting less and less and at the same time they are getting more powerful, you are going to see incredible things coming from a single artist, not just the studios. In the past the studios facilitated great artists and now the artists are able to facilitate themselves because of the access to these tools.
MC: What sort of new training resources are available for those wanting to learn C4D?
PB: Cineversity is of course a destination, but we are not trying to make it the be-all and end-all of where to go for training. We are also looking at how it can be improved. We also want to be a place that links users to other training resources such as Gnomon, the online training school. We were over at Gnomon and they were showing us techniques that we hadn't seen. We want to make sure our users have access to these things. Cineversity is about having our customers be successful, If they are successful then they are going to want to continue to use these tools..
MC: What you just shared about Gnomon underscores one of the major benefits of SIGGRAPH.
PB: Exactly. It's those intangibles that are the reasons to come to these shows.
MC: One reviewer, an architecture professor, praised MAXON for the increase in third party development and the escalating plug-ins available for many specialty requirements. MAXON's inter operability with the industry's most popular file types is remarkable. Would you talk about inter operability?
PB: This ties in with MAXON becoming more and more well known. The door is open to 3rd parties, like finalRender, that offer an alternative choice. Also Xfrog has a plug-in for trees. We also had a great meeting with Turbo Squid and they have a library of plug-ins. As MAXON becomes more well known it naturally attracts the plug-in developers to want to get access to our users. We see the value in providing these 3rd parties access to our customers as well.
MC: There's a phrase that always comes up in connection with MAXON - 'plays well with others'. It has been used before, but it is still very true. Would you comment?
PB: I ran into Brad Peebler from Luxology and he and I were laughing about who used that phrase first. We laughed because there are people in this industry who are still thinking in terms of corporate sales and going after the competition and we just don't have that philosophy. Again, it's about the artist. If that artist is using my toolbrush alongside someone else's tool brush that's ok.
We make an effort to make sure our tools work well with our competitors because we recognize that people are going to use more than one 3D package and each one has its strengths and weaknesses. For us it's always about the artist and making it as easy as possible for them to be creative, If we all spend our time competing with each other than all we will be doing is making our artists lives miserable because the better artists are going to like different features in different applications.
MC: Steve Lohr, Technology Editor of the New York Times, talks about software as a service. I have found that concept to be present in all your comments about this business.
PB: I do see it as a service, a service to artists. That's who we serve.
MC: Lohr also said, "Anything you can write a rule for is up for grabs" He meant that in context of what kind of tasks would be turned over to a machine. But it also speaks to the development of these 3D tools. When the researchers present their papers at SIGGRAPH, we see that the algorithms are becoming so subtle that they are capable of creating images as beautiful as the great masters. They are writing more beautiful rules all the time.
PB: The different ways of doing things has always been in the application, but maybe it was four steps and now we see that we can make it one button. 3D is so deep you can just keep all that going and keep writing new rules.
MC: Any special remarks to direct toward the user forums?
PB: To me it has always been about the community. I have been in this business long enough to see the evolution of the forums, of how for a long time the artists were afraid to share their knowledge and techniques. Then the forums for awhile got crazy and were a hot bed of arguments and flaming.
Nowadays people have learned to manage the forums a lot better and people have become a lot more productive in their comments. They want to help each other. These people can work by themselves and they can post their images and get a response to it. What I love is people getting on there and giving each other great feedback.
A lot of our demo artists that we bring to the shows are the guys that are more pro active on the forums, because that's their nature. They are natural demo artists and natural teachers and that is just great for us. We really appreciate them.
Presenters at the MAXON booth at SIGGRAPH 2007 were as follows:
Rick Barrett - VP of Operations for MAXON - CINEMA 4D Power Integration Presentation
Steve Whatley - Applications Engineer for Adobe - Adobe Creative Suite CS3 Power Integration Presentation
Dave Bleich - Texture Lead for Surf's Up by Sony Imageworks - Texturing and matte painting with CINEMA 4D and BodyPaint 3D
Kory Jones - Co-founder of Reality Check Studios - Motion design with CINEMA 4D with footage of NFL, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy bumpers
Aaron Kaminar - Lead Animator at Reality Check Studios - Motion design with CINEMA 4D with footage of NFL, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy bumpers
Josh Miller - Animator at Hybrid Medical Animation - Case study: CINEMA 4D MoGraph Module use in medical animation.
Kai Pedersen - Animator and Founder of Lucent Dreams Animation - Character Animation with CINEMA 4D.
Interview by freelance CG reporter Marsha Carlson