Luxology: Expanding the Use of 3D

"It's a multi-application world, folks"
-Brad Peebler, Luxology Press Summit

The 3D modeling and animation markets are expected to reach 250 million dollars in sales at the end of this year. A good deal of that profit is centered in massive legacy companies that command lucrative professional markets like Hollywood, Video Games and Architectural Visualization. These companies run their organization in a traditional fashion, where profit is the bottom line. They also work to protect their user base by promoting the idea that other competing applications are inferior, even to the point of removing forum posts that mention these applications. For sure, these companies wouldn't have achieved such success without creating a useful and effective product, but the idea that there is one application to rule them all is simply not true.

My question is: if your user base wants something to change or be added to an application, how do these legacy companies respond? I suspect the answer is will be contingent upon how much money can be made out of any user-requested feature. Fortunately, the wider community of users of 3D and animation software are too smart for this. No matter how much a PR team tries to spin it, users know when they are being ignored or brushed off. "It's just business," the corporation might say, but their users know better. Which is why a company that treats its users with real respect will ultimately succeed over the long haul.

The CG industry attracts remarkable people who are often as intelligent as they are creative. Brad Peebler, president of Luxology, is one of those people. At a recent Press Summit in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of meeting Brad and many of his associates in a 3-day program filled with panels, conversations, presentations, lunches and impromptu meetings regarding the vision that Luxology has for the future.


Brad Peebler, President of Luxology

"We try to stay on top of all areas of 3D. But there's always going to be someone better. Yes, you can sculpt in modo and it's a really darn good sculpting application....are we a better dedicated sculpting solution than Zbrush? No. Would conventional wisdom allow the president of a company to say that another product was better than theirs? No. But I'm not afraid to say it because it's the truth. And you know it. We know it. Why fight it? In fact, it's great. We embrace it. We work WITH Zbrush..."
- Never Fear modcast, Brad Peebler, 11/18/2011

Luxology was founded in 2001 by Allen Hastings, Stuart Ferguson and Brad Peebler. Originally part of the engineering team that helped create NewTek's LightWave 3D, they left Newtek to create their own application and to establish an entirely new business model for 3D and animation. After 3 years of development, they announced modo, a completely modern 3D application based on Luxology's Nexus proprietary software. modo was demoed at Siggraph 2004 and released to the public in the same year.

Early adopters of modo include Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, and id Software. Users are attracted to ease of use, intelligent design of the application and modo's contemporary approach to modeling and rendering. As the program has grown, Luxology has taken its time to develop the application deliberately. Luxology is a "pro-active, long term company" who looks to grow their work "responsibly" and "by listening to our users." Every release of modo has been carefully crafted to build on the previous version intelligently and with an eye to user requests and the needs of professional pipelines in a variety of markets including advertising, architectural rendering, visual effects and video game development. The current version of modo is version 501. It has been widely praised for it's powerful modeling and rendering abilities, but also for the community of users that has sprung up around the application.

The Press Summit

I was thrilled to be invited to the Luxology 3-day Press Summit in San Franciso this last November. I had met with David Tracy at SIGGRAPH and was impressed with the company's attitude and staff. The summit was a perfect opportunity to learn more about the company and to understand exactly how modo differs from other 3D applications.

The first day consisted primarily of travel and check in at the amazing Clift Hotel on Geary street in the Theater district of downtown San Francisco. The Clift is a very old hotel, originally built nearly 90 years ago in the Renaissance style that was fashionable then. Purchased in 1996 by the Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck team, it was completely re-imagined as an almost surreal blend of the original designs and Starck's post-modern whimsy. A giant chair in the lobby; various pieces of period furniture throughout the hotel; odd cubbyholes and sitting areas make for a strange, but very welcome atmosphere throughout the Clift.

I loved my comfortable room with its high ceiling and gray/yellow/lavender color combination. The real design triumph of the hotel was in the meeting room, however, where I spent most of two days. Lovely, cool rooms with eye-pulling views, comfortable chairs and beautiful combination of classic and high-tech. The choice of the Clift Hotel by Luxology showed real class and I wasn't alone in praising the accommodations and choice of meeting room.


In the evening, the press people (about 20 of us) met in a cocktail reception which ended with an amazing presentation by Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisor, John Knowles. He showed us clips from Avatar, Rango, Super 8 and several other films and indicated how modo, Luxology's 3D application, helped them create content quickly, while maintaining a very high quality. I was particularly taken with the Avatar scene, where several applications were used to create the final shot. This fit in perfectly with Brad Peebler's comments early that Luxology knows that it's "a multi-application world" in computer graphics. My head hit the pillow that evening tired, but very excited about the next day's schedule.

The second day was the real core of the summit. After an excellent breakfast, Brad Peebler introduced himself and the staff members present (we had met most of them the previous night). Brad is the president of Luxology, and is its chief spokesman. He's a handsome, athletic man with a wonderful sense of humor. He spoke at length about how he and his two partners, Allen Hastings (Chief Scientist) and Stuart Ferguson (CTO) founded Luxology, despite criticism that there was no room for another 3D application in the market.

"Nexus is our internal development platform. There has been a lot of confusion about what Nexus really is. It is NOT a product. Nexus is a system we have created that allows us to have our entire development team working on a single code base."
-Brad Peebler, CGSociety Interview, 2004

Brad indicated that the overall goal of Luxology is to "expand the use of 3D tools," by creating a new, modern application built on a "single framework/code basis," which they called Nexus. It's this fresh, flexible code base that "can build or rip layers out" that is the foundation for modo. In addition to being based on the "highest quality technology," modo is also "easy and fast to learn" and delivers very high quality rendering, which was very easy to see in the many samples of work we were to see over the 3-day summit.

I was very impressed when Brad spoke of Luxology's business approach: "We look at business practice as how we want to be treated, not on how much money we can pull out of them" (their customers). In essence, he and his partners wanted to build a company that "trusted its users" and "expanded awareness of 3D." I can't tell you how refreshing these ideas were to me. It's exactly the kind of approach I felt was missing in the highly competitive, and often impersonal, business of 3D.


Bob Bennet and Paul McCrorey

We were also treated to an enjoyable and impressive presentation by various modo users. Henk Dawson, a freelance 3D artist/designer (and very personable guy), showed how modo helped him create high-quality, professional work quickly. Paul McCrorey spoke of using modo in the CAD industry for visualization of products, and in early product design. He showed a short animation he created for a new shipping storage container design that was excellent. Gene Dupont closed with his presentation of package design using modo. He mentioned that the old school photography of products is now being taken over by 3D. "The 3D artist now has to learn photographic techniques," he said, which modo does very, very well.

It was fascinating to learn about an area of 3D that I was not that aware of. Brad called it the "CGAM" market, or computer graphics for advertising and marketing. The 3D computer artist in this field is required to have not only 3D skills, but a whole range of things like animation, 2D, lighting, compositing and more. modo has been a solid player in this market for some time, since the application "offers the image quality and smooth work-flow that these deadline-driven artists need..."

After the long day of discussion and presentations, it was pleasant to walk around downtown San Francisco before our big Luxology dinner in the evening. I remembered how much I enjoy visiting this wonderful city as I wandered, looking through windows and people watching.


Great meals and wonderful view of downtown San Fran

The dinner was fabulous, as was all of the food provided at the summit. Impeccable service at the hotel allowed me to relax and concentrate on listening and learning from those around me. As fate would have it, I was seated opposite Allen Hastings, the Chief Scientist at Luxology, and the man who essentially coded the modo renderer. I was dying to ask him what exactly "legacy code" was, as the phrase had come up in research on other 3D applications which were built on code that was almost 20 years old. "What's the difference between the two types of code?," I asked. I was surprised at the brevity of his answer, which was that it's "not so much the code, as it's the people who write the code."

At the end of the day, my head was so full of images and ideas that it took a long time to sleep, and I was glad for the packet of vitamins that Luxology provided in their "goody bag," which was in my hotel room when I checked in. Another example of the personal touch Luxology has with the people they are working with.

The last day of the summit started with an extended conversation at breakfast with Eric Soulvie, creator of a very neat plug-in for modo, called Recoil. It provides rigid-body dynamics for the application, and is highly regarded by Brad Peebler and just about everyone in the modo community. Eric talked to me about the development of his plug-in, and about coding in general. I also found his comments about the 3D industry in general to be most interesting.


Brad Peebler and David Helgason talk Unity/modo connection

"modo has always been my go-to package for game development and, with Unity 3.2, using modo to create content for Unity games has never been easier. I am now able to easily import my working modo scene without having to create an intermediate file and make edits by simply jumping back to modo, editing and saving the scene with the changes "
-Wes McDermott, multimedia artist and Unity 3.2 beta tester

The final session of the Luxology Press Summit was devoted to the relationship between Luxology and Unity, an independent game engine and development tool founded by David Helgason, Nicholas Francis and Joachim Ante in 2001. In the dialog between Brad and David Helgason (CEO of Unity), it was clear that Unity had adopted some of Luxology's customer-centric approach to business. Unity has been a rising player in the game world ever since they made their general application free. David was an enthusiastic speaker, and his comments about the symbiotic relationship between Unity and modo were fascinating.


I thoroughly enjoyed the Luxology Press Summit. Not only was it a pleasure to see many of my fellow journalists, like Jon Peddie and Lynette Clee, but meeting Luxology staff members and spending time with them really made the summit more personal and enjoyable. The choice of hotel was excellent, and I very much appreciated Luxology's attention to detail throughout the 3-day event.

This kind of press event could have easily turned into a hard-sell marketing event, where journalists take all of their swag and write predictable articles that are re-writes of the press material they've been given. Luxology doesn't do business like that. They wanted to meet with the press and have a conversation about how Luxology wants to change the way we think of 3D, and what exactly the company is doing to achieve that goal. Being able to talk directly with Brad Peebler and the Luxology team is so much different from simply reading a hyped-up press release. It's this personal touch that makes all the difference in their company. And I, for one, am very impressed.

Luxology is a business model for the future of 3D software. A creative, people-centered business, coupled with responsible, long-term development for their very modern software application, modo, is a formula for real success. And from working with modo 501 for an upcoming Renderosity review, I can say that their software is everything they say it is...and more. What a great company, run by smart and creative people. Just what I've been looking for.

My thanks to Luxology (especially to Heidi) for covering my expenses to the Press Summit and for making the event so enjoyable. It was a wonderful experience. After attending, I've got a gut feeling that this could be the "Year of modo." It certainly will for me, as I'm committed to being a user and supportive member of the Luxology community.

You can find out more information about Luxology and modo at the Luxology website.

Note: all photos my own, except for the last three which were provided by Luxology.


Editor's Note: Be sure to check out the following


Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.


December 5, 2011

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