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Vizfizz
01-26-2006, 10:37 PM
Hello all....

Since the formation of this forum, I've been getting a number of private emails that have been asking about the future of Electric Image and what is planned for the years ahead. Alas, I am not an employee of EITG and I can only speculate on EITG's plans, however, I will try to answer some of these questions to the best of my ability and I will forward this thread to the folks of EITG and perhaps they will chime in and shed a little more light.

Typically the letter starts out like this:

Hi.. I was thinking about purchasing EIAS, but decided not to because I'm uncertain about the company's future. So I purchased xyz package instead.

It always troubles me to hear statements like that because in my opinion every seat that sells is important. I'm sure that EITG shares the same sentiments, but EI has never had a history of strong marketing. The program has relied heavily on a core group of older users and word of mouth. Now there's nothing inheritantly wrong with that approach. Money that is saved from the marketing machine can be used to pay EI salaries and advance technologies. No two things will sink a software company faster than not paying their employees and not improving the program. As it currently stands, there is no reason to suspect that EITG's future is a negative one. The company has been making steady progression in releasing new technologies for the program, and plans are underway to convert the package over to Mactel. To me that spells a future. One of my goals for this forum, as I've said it a dozen times before, is to increase awareness in the program and work towards increasing EI's marketshare in the industry. This will only continue to ensure the longevity of the program in addition to all the advancements EITG is already doing in this area.

So on to some of the questions.

1. How does EI handle texturing & animation compared to other programs ?

Currently EI possess two primary methods of handling texturing within the program. Standard projection type mapping and UV coordinates. As of v6.5r2, there is no internal UV editing capability, however, through outside modeling programs like SILO, UV coordinates can be assigned to a model and ultilized within EIAS. UV coordinates on .obj files are also supported. Conversion tools like O2F assist in this process. Another beneficial tool that can help in the texturing process is Steamroller. This plugin flattens out geometry and exports out photoshop files to assist in the alignment of textures using standard projection techiques. Shader systems within EIAS are extremely good in my opinion. I am quite pleased with the efforts of the EI vendors to produce an array of shader sytems that is rarely matched by any other package. The only draw backs to EI's material/shader system is the lack of better previews, too numeric of an interface, and the need for a nodal based shader creation. The current method within the tabbed interface is good, but it should be moderized.

Verdict: EITG should integrate better UV tools into the package.
Verdict: EITG should create a nodal based material system that promotes better user feedback.

As for EIAS' animation capabilities....

Here the program offers a large array of tools. EIAS was originally intended for hard surface animation and so that's where the program really shines. A new realtime constraint system has been added which has solved a number of animation problems, deformation tools are reasonably robust, and the bundling of Xpressionist has added much needed scripting and expression capabilities. External 3rd party plugins can assist in additional animation needs like path deformation tools.

Character tools, however, are still in an evolutionary stage. We have the basics. IK/FK, morphing tools, strength/weight maps, skinning, etc... but the character animation process as a whole in EI needs an upgrade. Support for set driven keys, non-linear animation, user definable channel attributes, slider technology, channel linking and rerouting (without using expressionist), spline IK, additional skeleton creation tools, and improved joint alignment tools are needed.

Verdict: EIAS is still great for hard surface animation, matte paintings, motion graphics, and high poly architectural visualization but character animation tools need an upgrade. The advancement of FBX into the EI pipeline improves EIAS' offerings in the character animation world.

2. Is EI programming an own modeler, or will Silo stay bundled as the EI modeler of choice ? (upgrade EI=upgrade Silo ?)

There has been talk about EITG adding base level modeling tools into Animator due to the demise of EIM. However, no additional information has come out from the company confirming this. As for Silo, whenever anyone purchases a seat of EIAS, they can purchase a seat of Silo and a reduced cost. Each package has its own upgrade paths, so if you want to upgrade your seat of Silo, it is an extra cost after the initial purchase.

3. With EI you seem to buy only the basics, all other "modules" have to be purchased separately from third parties (water, fire&smoke, vegetation, hair, etcetera). Is EI unable to deal with these issues, or are these features basicly available (but perhaps with a sacrifice in quality or the time taken to achieve a good result) ?

EIAS tends to be an ala carte animation package thus allowing the user the option of customizing the package for his own needs. Some 3rd party plugins have made their way into the program itself, like Xpressionist, however, most of the 3rd party plugins meet specific needs that do not exist in the program itself. There are ways to accomplish some of their effects without the plugin, but generally this is not the case. EIAS offers more than enough tools to produce beautiful work, but plugins offer the next level of visual creativity.

There are many pros and cons to this approach. New users tend to want to purchase a package where everything is included, while others enjoy the idea of only purchasing what they need. Its my opinion that there are a couple of plugin functions that should be integrated into the program by now. Perhaps they will come with time, however, as a whole, EITG's history has been one of building specific bridges to other worlds as the needs present themselves. FBX is an example of that. Its my opinion that EI feels that they should focus on what they consider their core strength. Rendering and hard surface animation. Bridges into other technologies through plugins and FBX solves a number of issues and allows the company to focus on fewer technologies. You have to pick your battles.

Verdict: Certain technologies developed within plugins should be integrated into the mother package in order to improve EITG's competitiveness or EITG should consider offering plugin bundles at a discounted rate at the time of purchase of a new EIAS seat.

4. Speaking of basic features, the built-in particles seem a subset of a more powerful version (like SasLite hair in LW being a subset of Sasquatch). Are there other "downgrades" like that in EI ?

There are a few shader systems that have been included in EIAS that are similar. Two that come to mind are Konkeptoine's dirt layer and NPR shaders.

5. If I read correctly, a while ago an apparently excellent programmer for EI left the firm (Ranger? Granger? left to NewTek if I recall correctly). So without wanting to sound too harsh : is EI a slowly sinking ship ? Let me rephrase that : what's in store for EI's near future ?

Mark Granger, one of EI's initial authors of Animator and Camera, has joined Newtek to assist in the developement of Lightwave. However, Mark's departure from EI occurred long ago and EI has been moving along without him for years. He still is a resource to the EI community and has added to the EI Toolset by providing us with Granger FX. (which has been integrated into the program) Is EI a sinking ship? No I do not believe so. Much can be said about Maya/Alias selling out to Autodesk. But again, this is my opinion. EI's future has stabilized. They have produced several upgrades over the past year and a half and have plans to release one more update to EIAS 6.5r2 before tackling the Mactel switch over.

6. GI features are now implemented, but I'm wondering how they affect EI's speed. Before, EI had a pretty huge speed advantage, but is the difference still that big with EI ?

I can attest that as a phong renderer, there is no other program that can match EI's speed. Raytracing and GI however, seem to be more on an equal playing field with other programs. The trick here however, is utilizing the programs strengths and its hybrid renderer to its maximum benefit. EIAS has a number of tricks up its sleeve to improve rendering speed, and personally, you can make a benchmark say anything. If you work to understand the package well enough you can accomplish visuals that look like a million bucks but only took seconds to render.

Verdict: Its all about perception.

Vizfizz
01-27-2006, 02:34 AM
1. What does EIAS offer that other programs do not?

EIAS' claim to fame, in my opinion, is its ability to handle huge numbers of polygons and offer a rendering engine that is not only exceptionally fast, but produces images of unbelievable quality. The package is reasonably priced. (Normally $895 and currently on sale at $695.) Its available for both PC and Mac. Has an extensive set of 3rd party shaders and plugins through 3rd party vendors. Offers unlimited render nodes through renderama. (Which can be mixed and matched between PCs and Macs.) Has the ability assign individual processors to the rendering que through renderama. Therefore in theory, a quad processor mac could have four individual renderings running at once and it possesses a very simple and elegant interface that is easy to understand. Generally most EI users are going to tell you the following: Its fast. Its straightforward. It makes beautiful pictures.

2. Can EIAS import other file formats?

Yes. EIAS possesses a program module called Transporter. Its sole purpose is to translate data files into and out of EIAS. In version 6.5r2, EITG added FBX import capabilities which opens up a huge number of doors from other packages. Not completely satisfied with EI's character tools? Animated in Motion Builder or Maya and export into EI via FBX and take advantage of EI's rendering engine. Finally, EI also has the ability to export Maya camera files (.ma) and biovision (.obm) data.

Giacomo_M
01-27-2006, 02:46 AM
Well said.

I do 3D for print work. When EI's future was looking dicey a few years back, I bought and learned Lightwave with every intention of using it exclusively.

1. While I still use Lightwave's excellent modeler for any subdivision work, I do my rendering entirely in EIAS...Lightwave Layout is just clumsy and slow in comparison.

2. EI's rigging tools are much more permissive and easier to learn than Lightwave's...those weird "bone orientation" issues simply do not exist in EI.

3. I don't know about Maya, but Brian's post above massively understates the rendering speed advantage EI has over Lightwave. A render in EIAS Global Illumination "sky light" mode (the analog of "backdrop only radiosity" in LW) requires--no exaggerating--one tenth of the time that a comparable render in Lightwave does. I've been able to use GI for print-resolution renderings of complex scenes that simply would've required days to render in Lightwave.

GM

Vizfizz
01-27-2006, 03:05 AM
Yah...I don't have a lot of experience with GI in other packages. Since I'm a previs guy, its all about animation, camera work, cinematography, OpenGL and phong rendering. I wouldn't even begin to offer a comprehensive review of comparing GI solutions between products. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Martin Kay
01-27-2006, 08:22 AM
Hi Vizfizz, that was all very interesting to read.
As an original and current c4d user I can atest to EI's breathtaking render quality, especially compared to c4d. The shaders in EI and those available as third party offerings have a organic natural look to them which c4d doesn't. Bump mapping in EI looks convincing, where c4d often falls very short. EI also seems to smooth mesh flawlessly, where again c4d often struggles with imported stuff, say from Rhino and often from internally generated stuff. I'm not implying that c4d isn't a good working package- it gets jobs done for sure and is rock solid. I suppose its the difference between a cheaper economically made far eastern Stratocaster guitar and the real USA factory thing.
At the end of the day its the output quality of the render and shader quality which have bought me back, and the fact that EI has survived and is continuing to progress against a difficult economic and competitive world.

Martin K

Martin Kay
01-27-2006, 08:26 AM
I see that now my posts have reached 300, I have the unfortunate label of know-it-all. I certainly don't know it all and I think that's part of the fun for me, discovering how all this stuff works and what new things one can conjure up!

Martin K

Vizfizz
01-27-2006, 08:35 AM
Oh I agree with you a 100%. C4D is a pretty nice package though. I use it as well, right along with EI and Maya. Every program has their strengths, that's for sure, but I find it funny how the grass always seems greener on the other side for a lot of 3D users. Whatever the latest buzz word is...they just have to have it. Even though using those fancy technologies increase rendertime a tenfold or more and they wind up never using it. I just usually go back to what works and what gives me consistant results.

I'm glad you decided to pay us a visit here. All are welcome. Hopefully we can find new ways for you to utilize EI in your workflow. Post some of your work if you feel so inclined.

Reuben5150
01-27-2006, 07:25 PM
I suppose its the difference between a cheaper economically made far eastern Stratocaster guitar and the real USA factory thing.

Martin K

That sounds a bit hard on C4D if i do say so myself ! LOL, if you've ever seen under the paintwork of those cheap strat's... :eek:


Reuben

Martin Kay
01-28-2006, 11:23 PM
That sounds a bit hard on C4D if i do say so myself ! LOL, if you've ever seen under the paintwork of those cheap strat's... :eek:


Reuben

Well many 'cheaper' guitars these days are pretty good overall and do the job. I've had at least one that was very good for a third of the price of the real thing, but somehow don't quite have that extra something, largely soundwise.

Martin K

Martin Kay
01-28-2006, 11:32 PM
Oh I agree with you a 100%. C4D is a pretty nice package though. I use it as well, right along with EI and Maya. Every program has their strengths, that's for sure, but I find it funny how the grass always seems greener on the other side for a lot of 3D users. Whatever the latest buzz word is...they just have to have it. Even though using those fancy technologies increase rendertime a tenfold or more and they wind up never using it. I just usually go back to what works and what gives me consistant results.

I must think c4d is pretty good overall as I used it since version 5, and its true a good artist will probably be able to work with anything. I think EI scores close up for table top type work, where you are able to more easily see what its made of. Larger scenes, I think, tend to even out any subtle differences in render quality, not that I think the difference between EI and c4d is at all subtle close up...

Martin K

SteveW928
02-01-2006, 11:08 AM
One thing that came to mind about the ala-carte plug-ins and shaders vs. built-in...

When you get a program with them all built in, are they generally as good as the ones you get from 3rd parties? In other words, if I buy package xyx which has built-in particles on its feature list, would I end up having to go out and buy the 3rd party in the end anyway?

My suspicion is that having them be 3rd party keeps the quality up, as the 3rd party folks have more incentive to do a good job and really solve the problems of the users. The built-in ones just need to add to the feature list.

I have little experience with apps with built-in everything, so this is just speculation. Though it seems that 3rd party exist for those apps, so the built-ins can't do everything I guess.

-Steve

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