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.