Stay tuned for more tips, tricks and reviews from my tech bench

I intend to start posting some in depth reviews and tutorials here. Stay tuned.

Current Tools

Autodesk Maya Maya is the backbone of my production process. Although many of my models start elsewhere (Rhino, Modo and z-brush), Maya is where I do most of my rigging, dynamics, scripting and animation. Great tool, despite many bugs, some deep unstability and lots of missing nice-to-have features. Still the best technical director’s animation system.

Luxology Modo Modo is an amazing subdivision surface modeler (aka, sub-D modeler). The workflow is super customizable and the tools let you build just about anything, especially organic surfaces. The best for modeling characters and realistic creatures.

Rhinoceros (Rhino) This Nurbs modeler was originally created for ship design. It’s fantastic for creating organic fair-curved surfaces like boat hulls and industrial designs. Lacks the intuitive modeling flow of subDs, but makes up for it with incredibly fast and efficient Booleans and curve trimming tools. My favorite for industrial modeling, especially when things have to fit into real-world dimensions.

RealFlow RealFlow is a powerful fluid dynamics and rigid-body simulation system. I’m just getting the hang of using it in production, but it’s far faster and more reliable than other tools I’ve used. It works really cleanly as an add-on to Maya.

Photoshop. The software that changed everything. I didn’t know what resolution was before this. Now resolution rules my world. Photoshop still lives on my desktop.

After Effects. I met the creators of AE at MacWorld Expo, Boston, in a flea-bag hotel, back in like, 1990, when the company — two brothers and a friend — were known as CoSA (Company of Science and Art.) After Effects also changed everything — over time. I still have this one on my desktop, too.

My Tool Museum

Over the years — going back to about 1992 — I’ve got to (had to) work with lots and lots and lots of different software. I used be a reviews editor, and I used to write a lot of magazine reviews, mostly in the 3D-graphics space. My bookshelf would have put the Fry’s software aisle to shame. I’ve scaled way back on writing reviews (the going rate has gone from $1 a word to about 2 cents) and I’ve also gotten soft about trying every new tool that comes along. But a few of them have survived. Here some of my favorites from over the years, some of which I still use today.

Form*Z. My first hard-core 3D modeler. Autodessys used to send me cards from Greek vacations after a couple of stellar reviews I wrote. Don’t use it much anymore. Too architecturally focused. I never liked its “Nurbz” tools and most of my modeling has gone organic.

Electric Image Animation System. Stalwart tool of ILM’s now-defunct Rebel Unit. Software that launched 3D animation into films and got John Knoll started. Once great. Now, well, remaindered. Used to cost $15,000 a seat for the “production” version. Could render several frames per hour on a Mac IIfx. I used EI with Formm*Z for the Ironclads project. Think I still have a dongle around here, somewhere.

Strata3D. This was once the best raytracer you could find, anywhere. Was the first one I ever saw with raydiosity (sic). I cut my teeth on this tool and thought it was pretty cool until I saw Electric Image. The modeler always sucked. Sucks even worse by comparison now. I think you can still buy it, but you probably shouldn’t. I’ve long since erased it from my hard drives.

Alias Sketch! Sketch was the first Nurbs modeler I ever got my hands on. Beautiful tool at the time, but then, no one offered a decent subdivision surfaces modeler, so I had no idea what was coming.

Renderman vs Mental Ray

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Pixar’s Renderman For Maya lately. What a kick! I love this renderer for many reasons: deep shadows, motion blur, sub-pixel rendering of subDs, NURBS and displacements, and rendering stability and speed. I compared an animation I did in Maya using RealFLow and Mental Ray to the same animation I rendered in Renderman. The conversion process was minimal, but the difference in rendering speed and quaility is amazing. The only bummer? Cost. Renderman is just really expensive.

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