At an entertaining and informative live presentation, which had lots of Hollywood pizazz, NewTek, in the person of Rob Powers, announced the upcoming release of LightWave 11, the company's powerhouse modeling, animation and rendering application. The Hollywood part comes from the fact that the presentation took place at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences - Leonard W. Goldenson Theater this last Thursday night, and was filled with classy touches like having members of the Cirque du Soleil perform a humorous silent film shoot live in the theatre aisles, and the pre-show smooze with all kinds of VFX masters in attendance. Of course, the theater itself was gorgeous. A perfect setting for what NewTek billed as "VFX Minds." Brilliant idea to combine a live program honoring users of LightWave in Hollywood and present the newest version of their classic software.
The evening began with actress Jeri Ryan as MC asking everyone who has won an Emmy or Academy Award to stand up. Amazingly, a dozen people or more stood to loud applause. Next, we had a fantastic panel of VFX masters discussing the state of VFX in television, primarily. Variety editor, David Cohen, did a marvelous job asking questions and herding the loquacious panelists along smartly: Chuck Cominsky (visual effects supervisor for Avatar), Gary Hutzel (head of Universal Studios visual effects house), Ron Thornton (Babylon 5 vfx supervisor), and Eric Hance (Terra Nova CG Supervisor). It's difficult to sum up their comments, but basically, 3D TV is a coming technology, although they all felt it was more suited to a larger screen. VFX for TV is going to become more like feature films. Virtual locations for TV are easier and cheaper to create than real locations, due to software innovations and automation. Finally, it's possible with small groups to create work that is innovative, but able to be done quickly on a television time schedule.
After the panel, Rob Powers took over with an announcement that LightWave 11 would ship at the end of the year. He was very proud of the various new capabilities that LW11 has to offer, and was obviously tickled when he said that LW11 would be available NOW as a preview for registered users of LightWave 10. A sign that NewTek has learned from the past, and is now determined to get their releases ready to go when they announce them.
Too many new items to list individually. I'll be doing a big review of LW11 in the coming months and will mention these in more detail. I was very impressed with Rob's presentation using a PS3 controller to move the camera in real time in LW11. He was trying to make the point that the LW SDK is there for cheaper virtual camera control and that you don't have to have expensive equipment to use the virtual camera tools that LW11 has to offer. Other updates include Instancing, Flocking, a Fracture tool, Bullet Dynamics and very, very cool Interchange Tools ("one click interaction between Zbrush and LW11," as Rob Powes puts it). You can learn more about the new LightWave11 release by checking the NewTek website.
I was very impressed with the whole presentation, but there was one aspect that made all the difference to me. As a part of honoring VFX artists who have used LightWave in the past, they also remembered that LightWave is an application for small studios, even a single individual, and not just for the larger Hollywood studios. Rob Powers gave the world premiere of a short film built entirely by one person using LightWave. Abiogenesis was created by Richard Mans and is a stunning short film. I'd seen it before, but was unprepared for just how gorgeous and moving the film is on a large screen. The fact that Rob chose to end the evening on the achievements of a single artist tells me so much about Rob and about the direction NewTek is heading.
VFX Minds was a brilliant conception, and despite a flub here or there in presentation, I was very impressed. LightWave is in very capable hands and I expect the application to soar with this new release.
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