Renderosity invites everyone to join in Poser's ten-year anniversary celebration, as Daryl Wise explores the wonderful and often eclectic world of Larry Weinberg - the original creator of Poser, as well as CTO of e frontier.
First of all, let's talk about the evolution of Poser. I know that you have a background in animation, and have animation royalty in your family. Can you discuss a bit about your family, education and also your animation experience?
My grandfather, who I never got the chance to meet, was Dave Fleischer. He, along with his brother Max Fleischer, created and ran Fleischer Studios from the 1920s to the 1940s. Dave was credited with directing all the Betty Boop, Popeye, and Koko The Clown cartoons, as well as the features Gulliver's Travels and Hoppity Goes To Town. My grandfather actually was Koko the clown. He was filmed wearing a clown suit for the animations they would then rotoscope (which they invented and patented).
My mother didn't keep a single scrap of memorabilia from her father's work believe it or not. They did some brilliant and often surreal animation. To this day the Betty Boop cartoons like Bimbo's Initiation rank among my favorites. I highly recommend The Fleischer Story book for anyone interested in their history.
I caught the film bug in college while attending Yale University. I studied animation, and film there with Faith Hubley, John Canemaker, and Michael Roemer among others. I tried traditional animation work for a short time in New York, but didn't like the way the business seemed. My knowledge of computers led me to do some APL programming, which led eventually to working with Digital Effects in 1983, an early pioneer in computer animation. When they folded, I eventually followed some of the people to Omnibus in Los Angeles. I was there for the incredible time of watching Robert Abel, Digital Productions, and Omnibus (the three largest companies in computer animation) merge together, last for three month, and collapse.
After a year, I joined Rhythm and Hues, as their 13th employee, and helped them grow to several hundred people over a ten-year period. I animated, lit, wrote software, or animation directed, numerous TV commercials (Coca Cola Polar Bears, Mr. Peanut, Matchlight Charcoal, etc), special effects (Star Trek Deep Space Nine wormhole, Babe, Scooby Doo 2, etc), and motion based ride films (Seafari).
What lead you to the idea of 3D human figure software?
My ability to visualize the human form in perspective in my head was not strong enough for some of the artwork I wanted to do. I tried store-bought manikins, but they were poor. I tried to build a better manikin, but that didn't work well either. I suddenly realized that I could combine my 3D programming knowledge with my needs, and create a digital manikin that could help me, and others, in a similar position.
I set out to experiment with interactive techniques that would allow 2D artists to use a 3D tool on a computer. This wasn't an easy task at the time (1989). I decided to work at it for a while ? with my financial goals being very modest. If I could someday earn $10,000 from the software I decided I'd be happy, and it would be worth doing. I expected Poser 1 to be a one trick story, ship one release, and die a quick and happy death.
Please talk about Poser and its journey from its first creation, when it was owned by Fractal Design, to its new home at e frontier.
It took me several years to find a publisher for Poser. I even approached Adobe at one point ? calling it BodyShop in hopes it could be sold along side PhotoShop. I had a few bites, but it wasn't until I met Mark Zimmer and John Derry at MacWorld (1993?), that things got exciting. They saw the potential immediately. Mark was the main developer of Painter and ran Fractal Design. John was the UI designer and artist part of the team for Painter. They are some great guys, and Fractal Design was a wonderful company to work with and be part of.
I came up with the name Poser to match with Painter. John Bass was brought in to be the product manager for Poser 1. It was the first time I realized that creating Poser could actually lead to jobs for other people. John was a fantastic match for the project, and he and I delivered Poser 1 with some UI help from John Derry. Seath Arhens came in to help on the Windows side and the team started to come to life. By Poser 2, we had Jianhua Shen to round out a solid engineering core that stayed together for many versions of Poser.
Poser 1's release came at a magical time in the computer field. Digital Art was a new revolution, and Fractal Design was at the center of it. Seeing the work that thousands of artists suddenly created with the help of Poser was an incredible thrill.
Fractal Design wound up merging with Ray Dream, and then MetaTools, to form MetaCreations. MetaCreations had 60% of the desktop 3D software market sowed up ? with Bryce, Ray Dream, Infini-D, and Poser all under the umbrella ? not to mention Kai's Power tools and Painter. They had everything; unbelievable engineers, art support, UI designers, product managers, the works. They had revenue of fifty-million-dollars a year. They were on the verge of bringing advanced interoperability to all of these tools, and becoming the creative force in digital image creation on the desktop.
So, what did they do? Under the guidance of a board of directors of venture capitalists they decide to leave the publishing business, and become an Internet technology company. Publishing wasn't a good growth business they said. That's what everyone else was doing, wasn't it. They called themselves The Creative Web Company when they didn't have a single web product. So, all the pieces scattered to the wind and got sold off to other companies.
Of the suitors for Poser, Egisys seemed to be the best fit. They were in interactive 3D project business and wanted to expand into software tools. They knew Poser intimately. They kept the team intact and gave us the chance to form Curious Labs. Steve Cooper, Seath Ahrens, Fish Williams and I formed the initial management team. It was a decent partnership for a while, but some bad market timing, and bad decision-making in Germany left the parent company deeply in debt. Curious Labs, as a sub-company was always able to keep itself afloat - even during the poor times after September 11th.
Poser 6 ... UI With Call Outs [used with permission from e frontier]
Curious Labs was purchased by e frontier out of the ashes of Egisys. I left for a while during the turmoil ? returning to Rhythm and Hues, to work on Garfield the Movie and Scooby Doo 2. I returned a few months after the company came back together under e frontier.
A software business is very difficult to maintain when you have only one product, which does steady business. People probably view Poser as a giant product ? but it takes every nickel of revenue to; maintain support, marketing, sales, programming, customer service, documentation, etc. During hard times this was difficult to maintain. That is why we tried to introduce a copy protection scheme. We were losing tremendous revenue to software theft. This was money lost that we could not put back into the company, and into further product creation. It hurts us all.
Bringing with it a number of products already successful in Japan [most notably Shade], e frontier, strengthens the market place, and helps the combined company [the USA and Japan], have a better chance for a successful future of continuing to make empowering art tools at an affordable price.
What do you see in the future for Poser in the animation industry.
Poser is still a tool for the individual artist, and it has a place on the desktop of anyone creating imagery with the help of a computer. Poser is used a lot in the pre-visualization arena, where creative work must be done quickly. I think this will continue to grow. It also has a place in making individual productions and short films. I don't think we'll be seeing Poser replace Maya and RenderMan at ILM, or 3D studio Max at the heart of many game companies. However, Poser will continue to empower a single individual to create fantastic art and animation without investing months of technical training. But in a few years - who know? I used to be able to tell the future - It gets harder as you get older.
Ok, now for some fun questions ... there is so much artwork created with Poser, which is your favorite style of Poser artwork?
I still get great joy when I see artwork created in the way Poser was originally intended - as a visualization aid. There are sculptors who plan physical pieces with Poser, and portrait artists who plan traditional oil paintings with it. Then there's the other side - the artists whose works are being done with the new rendering powers of Poser 6 to produce completely finished works of art within Poser.
I enjoy seeing the growth in the talents of the user base. The images created today by young artists are just fantastic when viewed against what was created in the first years after Poser 1 shipped. I get a thrill knowing that Poser helped this field to grow in its capabilities and in its vision of what's possible.
~~~~~~ Bigt ~~~~~~~~~~ rockets ~~~~~~~~~~ calum5 ~~~~~~
Some of Renderosity's Many Faces of Poser
Have you always been into cartoons and animation? Did you read comics when you were a kid? What kind of kid were you anyways, a troublemaker?
Yes! I always loved cartoons, comics, animation, and illustration. I remember my first attempt at making a stop motion film with an 8mm camera (home video tape didn't come into existence until I was in college). I spent hours shooting a sequence with moving pillows and blankets, and the film came back black.
I am still in awe of the work of cartoonists like Winsor McCay, the early Mad magazine illustrators, and anyone trained by Howard Pyle. I loved anything visual. I spent a lot of time with a microscope when I was ten-years old. The microscopic world of protozoa was amazing to me. I don't think I was really a troublemaker. I was very quiet and shy. I remember people asking, "What , does he think about anyway?"
Most folks don't know that you are a pretty good card player. Can you talk about your interest in poker?
I've been playing tournament poker as a hobby for many years. It's very popular now. You can read about my adventures in this year's World Series of Poker on my poker blog. At one time or another I've been at a table against many of the famous players you see on TV now (World Poker Tour). I finished in the money in my first attempt at a World Series of Poker tournament, but haven't connected with anything big ? yet! Poser never did make me rich, so I'm still looking for the big win!
What are some of your favorite movies? What would you recommend?
Oh man. Well, there's always Mary Poppins. I'm not kidding. It is still one of my favorites. I loved Kung Fu Hustle recently. I can't remember anything as funny using as many special effects and side kicks. It's better than the Matrix. What a hoot.
I was a film student at Yale, but after years of intellectual film, after film, after film, I still say there's nothing like Terminator 2 or Office Space for some fun and adventure. For old film, if you can see Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush with a live musical accompaniment you need to go for it. Murnau made some great old films too. Eisenstein was a Russian genius in the 1920's and 30's. These kinds of films are very informative for animators. Anything with Chaplin or Buster Keaton will teach you how much movement matters.
Big Fish was a special film. Hero was another recent incredible film. The Little Mermaid is probably still my favorite "modern" 2D animated film. Finding Nemo was almost perfect. Anything by Miyazaki is a must see: Spirited Away , Princess Mononoke, Totoro, Laputa. Animation doesn't get any better. And, then there's always Army of Darkness and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. You can see I have very demanding tastes.
Who are your favorite animators? Directors?
It's hard to name people. I worked with many animators through the years - many of which were quite wonderful. The best ones are unknown by anybody. Brad Bird seems to be a huge force in directing these days. Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich did an amazing job with Finding Nemo. I wish Miyazaki could live forever and keep producing films in Japan, and I wish Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were still around to direct animation. I did pee in the urinal next to Chuck Jones once. That was a special star sighting for me!
As a closer, what would you like to say to all of the Poser fans across the globe?
Get off the computer, go down to the local pub and have a big glass of Lagavulin, and laugh with some friends! But, make sure you get up for work on time the next morning. I guess you expected something more inspirational, eh?
In celebration of the 10 Year Anniversary of Poser, e-frontier announces an Upgrade Amnesty Program. Users of all previous versions of Poser can upgrade to Poser 6 for only $99.99 USD (download only) from Aug 29 to Oct 31 2005. For more information go to http://www.e-frontier.com/go/rendernewsamnesty
Renderosity invites you to visit the following Poser related sites:
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.
A special "thank you" to contributing columnist Daryl Wise [dsw59], for taking time out of his busy schedule from his Press & Artists Relations' at e frontier, to be a part of our writing team this week.
September 26, 2005