MONTREAL, Jan. 15, 1997 — Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., today extended its relationship with Mental Images GmbH & Co. KG to enhance the Mental Ray rendering environment and to closely integrate these technologies into future Softimage® products. This agreement strengthens Softimage’s ability to provide cutting-edge capabilities across the entire content-creation spectrum of modeling, animation and rendering. In addition, Softimage announced a special promotion on Mental Ray software, including a free additional Mental Ray license to the licensees of Softimage 3D Extreme and a reduction of 50 percent on the unit price per CPU of Mental Ray. This promotion will run until the end of March 1997.
Leading facilities such as Cyan Inc., Digital Domain, Fox Animation Studios, R/Greenberg Associates Inc. (RGA) and Sega Entertainment Inc. are currently using Mental Ray to produce stunning 3-D effects and images in their recent projects such as American Werewolf in Paris, Anastasia, Riven (Sequel to Myst), Terminator 2 3-D and Virtua Fighter Kid.
Under the agreement, Softimage and Mental Images, a privately held company based in Berlin, Germany, will work together to create new cross-platform versions of Mental Ray for the Softimage 3D product line including Sumatra, code name for the new generation of Softimage 3D, and Digital Studio, code name for Softimage’s new integrated media production environment. Also under the agreement, Mental Ray is now available from Softimage on the Microsoft® Windows NT® operating system and UNIX platforms, including all 64-bit platforms, from Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Before the agreement, Mental Ray was available only on Windows NT and Silicon Graphics IRIX 32-bit platforms. The supported platforms now range from PCs and workstations to parallel shared-memory servers and distributed memory supercomputers.
Mental Images is a recognized leader in providing rendering technology to the entertainment, computer-aided design, scientific visualization, architecture and other industries that require sophisticated images. Softimage and Mental Images have worked together since 1993.
Demand for High-Quality Rendering
Demand for high-quality imagery is being fueled by the financial success of animated feature films and games, as well as emerging high-capacity media such as DVD.
“The mandate from entertainment consumers is clearly to see more high-quality, photorealistic images,”
said Daniel Langlois, founder of Softimage.
“The availability of powerful rendering applications such as Mental Ray, combined with low-cost renderfarms, now enables studios to increase image quality while staying within budget and production deadlines.”
“Our relationship with Softimage allows us to focus on the further development of Mental Ray in order to meet the more challenging demands of the entertainment markets,”
said Rolf Herken, president and R & D director of Mental Images.
“Ease of use, flexibility and programmability of the software are being increased dramatically. Special emphasis is put on achieving an even higher degree of quality and realism of the rendered images and on providing the highest performance across a wide range of UNIX and Windows NT platforms.”
To meet this demand, hardware manufacturers such as Digital Equipment Corp., Intergraph Corp., NeTpower Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc. have developed high-performance, low-cost renderfarm systems. Containing as many as 12 CPUs, these systems can harness the full power of Mental Ray rendering. Other manufacturers are expected to announce renderfarm and parallel rendering server products throughout 1997.
Mental Ray-Based Productions
Through a combination of advanced ray-tracing capabilities, procedural shaders, volumetric rendering and a programmable architecture, Mental Ray is quickly establishing a new benchmark for rendering quality. With cross-platform, distributed and parallel processing capabilities, Mental Ray can render in parallel across any number of CPUs in a hybrid network of machines. Mental Ray is also becoming the platform of choice for creating low-cost renderfarms, banks of computers dedicated to rendering. Mental Ray is used across the spectrum from games to very high resolution projects such as Digital Domain’s Terminator 2 3-D.
Most recently, Mental Ray was used to create the imagery in Riven, the new sequel to Cyan’s legendary game Myst. Karl Stiefvater, Riven technical director for Cyan Inc., commented,
“We initially chose Mental Ray for its realistic effects; later we came to rely on its powerful flexibility. Without Mental Ray, Riven would be a much different place.”
A new line of Mental Ray shaders, Real World, was also used extensively throughout Riven. Real World shaders are created by Lume Inc. and are one of the first Mental Ray plug-ins. Real World shaders will be available in summer 1997.
Digital Domain also used Mental Ray to produce the stunningly realistic animated character T-Meg for the Terminator 2 3-D attractions at Universal Studios Florida.
“Without the ray tracing capabilities offered by Mental Ray, true self-reflections on the T-Meg could not have been achieved,”
said Daniel Robichaud, digital effects supervisor at Digital Domain. Terminator 2 3-D is one of the highest resolution-per-frame projects – 24K lines of rendering per image – ever produced.
“We relied on our own proprietary, programmable renderer for many years until we got a taste of Mental Ray,”
said Mark Voelpel, director of CGI for R/Greenberg Associates.
“The ease of use, image quality and programmability of Mental Ray give us the flexibility and capability we need, without our having to maintain our own renderer. The close integration with what we consider to be the best character-animation software available – Softimage – will always make it our first choice for rendering. The ability to port our proprietary capabilities to the Softimage and Mental Ray environment with relative ease also allows us to focus on new development, instead of having to continually maintain and optimize every aspect of rendering. Coupled with the SDK, Mental Ray has given us the freedom and hooks we need to develop unique and powerful capabilities, such as hair and cloth.”
Mental Ray-Based Rendering Services
A number of rendering service providers are beginning to build up their business by providing peak performance Mental Ray rendering services to media and entertainment production companies. These companies either do not want to invest in powerful rendering hardware solutions or they need even more rendering power than they have installed in-house. For example, the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) in Hawaii recently licensed Mental Ray for its 512-node IBM SP2 massively parallel supercomputer. Up to 256 RS6000 processors of this distributed memory machine can be used simultaneously for Mental Ray rendering, transforming it into the largest Mental Ray renderfarm today.
In Europe, the High Tech Center Babelsberg (HTCB), which is currently under construction on the site of the Babelsberg Film Studios close to Berlin, Germany, has also licensed Mental Ray from Softimage. In a pilot installation during the erection phase of the European Community-funded $70 million digital film production service center, the software runs on a Hewlett-Packard Exemplar X-Class parallel supercomputer with 64 CPUs. It is the largest symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) Mental Ray rendering server as of today. The system will be upgraded to 128 PA-8000 CPUs in 1998, providing approximately 100 GFLOPS (billions of floating point operations per second) of Mental Ray rendering performance.
Softimage also announced special promotional pricing for Mental Ray licenses through March 31, 1997. For example, customers will receive an approximately 50 percent discount on the unit price per CPU of Mental Ray licenses. Also, customers will receive free of charge one additional license of Mental Ray when acquiring Softimage 3D Extreme or Softimage 3D Extreme FX. Customers should contact their reseller or sales representative for full details. International pricing may vary.
Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include Softimage 3D (high-end animation), Softimage Eddie (compositing) and Softimage Toonz (2-D cel animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at (http://www.softimage.com/) and http://www.microsoft.com/ , respectively.
Softimage is a registered trademark of Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.
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Mental Ray Key Features
Mental Ray is available for Windows NT-based workstations and all UNIX-based platforms from Digital, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Silicon Graphics and Sun. The supported platforms range from PCs and workstations to parallel shared-memory servers and distributed memory supercomputers. Key features include these:
Parallelism. Mental Ray is a parallel rendering solution that achieves scalable performance through the exploitation of parallelism on both multiprocessor machines and across networks of machines. Taking advantage of multiprocessor and networked hardware dramatically reduces the time it takes to render each image of a complex animation scene.
Performance. Mental Ray uses advanced and proprietary acceleration and recursive sampling techniques for faster rendering on even the smallest single processor machines.
Portability. Mental Ray has been designed to be completely platform-independent, resulting in a very high degree of portability.
Availability. The availability of Mental Ray on Windows NT allows customers to choose from a variety of high-performance, low-cost hardware platforms based on Alpha and Intel Pentium Pro microprocessors for fast, cost-effective renderfarm solutions. The availability of Mental Ray on UNIX-based platforms from SGI, HP, DEC, Sun and IBM allows customers to choose from a wide variety of hardware platforms, reducing dependence on particular manufacturers for high-performance Mental Ray rendering solutions and for meeting 64-bit operating system requirements.
Programmability. With Mental Ray programmable shaders, animators can differentiate their imagery with unique, visually exciting custom effects. An open application programming interface based on C and C++ enables customers to directly access the Mental Ray rendering engine for building custom shaders that match their unique creative environments. Run-time linking of user-supplied C and C++ code allows the creation of procedural textures, materials, new lighting models, atmospheric and lens effects, as well as displacement maps.
Compatibility. Mental Ray’s most extensive feature set, combined with its full programmability, allows simulation of any other rendering software in the market by means of a suitable shader that encodes the characteristic behavior of the simulated software. This makes it possible to use Mental Ray in combination with any existing or forthcoming front-end system for the entertainment and CAD markets.
Shader library. Mental Ray is shipped with an extensive library of Mental Ray shaders and effects, including some of the most challenging effects such as hair, smoke, fog and environmental effects such as sunsets and sunrises. Shader libraries are updated continually at no charge through Softimage’s World Wide Web site, (http://www.softimage.com/) . Through an Internet browser, customers can quickly view an effect in action to determine how it can be used in an animation scene.
Interface. Mental Ray is integrated into Softimage 3D, making it easier to preview and render images and to tune shader parameters by means of a shader ball that allows customers to find the desired effect quickly.