Frantic Films R&D at SIGGRAPH 2004
By Ben Houston, Michael Fagundes, Borislav Petrov, Christopher Batty and Mark Wiebe

Reprinted from by Ben Houston.  Original article is located here:


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Frantic Films R&D at SIGGRAPH 2004
By Ben Houston, Michael Fagundes, Borislav Petrov, Christopher Batty and Mark Wiebe


Frantic Films Software

August 18, 2004

A gang of us from the R&D department at Frantic Films headed down to Los Angeles for this year's SIGGRAPH and we've put together a report on some of the highlights that caught our eye. In terms of our background, we've done a lot of work with fluid simulation and rendering. Hopefully you will enjoy our perspective on things.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

GP 2 Workshop

We went to SIGGRAPH a few days early to take in the GP 2 workshop. The workshop focused primarily on how the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) can be used in general purpose computing situations. While there were many interesting presentations, and much work has been done to characterize GPUs in terms of stream program, the overall feel was that true general purpose computations on the GPU are still at least a year, if not more, away from becoming a reality. Among the reasons for this are that the current generation of GPUs is still too limited, and read-back speeds into main memory are much too slow. However, there is still some hope that the forthcoming PCI Express cards will address some of these issues.

Related Links:

General-Purpose Computation Using Graphics Hardware

ACM Workshop on General Purpose Computing on Graphics Processors



Sunday, August 8, 2004

Emerging Technologies

The Invisible Train is a multi-player game that makes use of augmented reality on PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) displays. The environment consists of a small wooden train track fitted with markers for visual post-tracking (by a camera). The train itself is virtual, visible only on the user's PDA displays. The user or users view and control the virtual trains through their PDAs.

The High Dynamic Range Displays on display by Sunnybrook Technologies were among the most interesting technologies presented. Unlike last year's proof of concept displays which combined a bulky projector with a backless LCD, this year the displays were fully integrated into a single unit just a few inches thick � small enough to fit on a normal desk.

The CirculaFloor

CirculaFloor was a fun interactive display. It consisted of four motorized platforms on which a person could walk. As a person started walking in one direction, a platform would disengage from behind; zoom around, and place itself in front of the current platform, ready to be stepped on. This type of locomotion simulator could be useful in combination with VR glasses. It simulates the feeling of really walking around an environment, when in fact you're staying in the same spot (only the tiles are moving).

Follow this link for more information on CirculaFloor



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Art Gallery

Mark Stock: Red Streamlines

Mark Stock explained how he created his Red Streamlines work. He has been creating fluid simulations using a method called 'vorticity modeling'. �Red Streamlines� is an investigation into the characteristics of a wavy, rotation-dominated flow. The resulting characteristics of rotation-dominated flows can be seen in air, water and landforms.

Keith Browh: Geo_04

geo_04 by Keith Brown also caught our attention. It was a wooden sculpture but it was produced by the rapid prototyping LOM (Laminated Object Manufacturing) of a 3ds max model that Keith himself designed.

Monday, August 9, 2004


The photon-mapping course organized and presented by Henrik Wann Jensen was fascinating. It was great to be able to gain more insight into the theoretical underpinnings that modern renderers are using for caustics and global illumination.

Discreet 3ds max 7 Launch

Discreet announced the new 3ds max 7 to a full house at its Evolve 2 event.

Chris Bond of Frantic Films and Stu Maschwitz of The Orphanage led the event with presentations detailing some of the techniques used with 3ds max to produce the effects seen in Scooby Doo 2 and Hellboy.



Concurrently as the presentations were being given, David King was hard at work building a full character model from scratch, displayed on the screen as the presenters spoke. It was very impressive to see the complexity of the character that David was able to create with 3ds max 7 in such a short time frame. Of the many new features that 3ds max 7 has to offer, the best features are the paint deformation tools. They give the user the ability to push vertices around in a very natural way, allowing the modeler to first focus on creating the right topology, then later tessellate and sculpt the result.

Following the presentations, we had a chance to mingle with the other delegates. It was really nice to be able to meet with such a wide variety of people in the 3ds max community and talk about our different experiences.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


The PDE and Level Set Methods course organized by David Breen was the highlight of the day. The background discussion was very pertinent to the current state of the art in fluid simulation techniques.

Later in the day Ben Houston caught up with Geoffrey Irving of Stanford University to chat about his new robust soft body animation algorithms. Irving will be presenting a paper on his algorithms later this summer. Videos of his current results are already available on the web.


We had the opportunity to show off some of what we've done with Gelato at the NVIDIA booth, both on their stage and on one of the demo computers. What we created is code, named Amaretto, which converts scenes from Discreet's 3ds max and renders in Gelato. A fair number of people stopped by to take a look at what we were doing. It was nice to show off some of the features we've put in, like how easy Gelato shader development is right from the max material browser.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


A paper entitled �Rigid Fluid� presented by Mark Carlso n of Georgia Tech featured phenomenally realistic rigid body - fluid coupling. A still from one of his demo scenes is featured on the right. More information about his rigid body � fluid coupling algorithm is available at his website.

Also in the Dynamics and Modeling paper session Tolga Goktekin , of the University of California at Berkeley , presented a method for simulating viscoelastic fluids or gelatinous substances, like Jello. Some of the demo scenes from the paper were also shown in the Electronic Theater.

Frank Losasso from Stanford presented a method of achieving very large fluid simulation volumes using octree methods. His milk splash video was outstanding. Frank is part of the renowned group of PhD students studying under Prof. Ronald Fedkiw .


�The Elements of Nature: Interactive and Realistic Techniques� course was a full day presentation by David Ebert , Ron Fedkiw , Jos Stam and Ken Musgrave , among others. It may just be because we're simulation guys, but we found the course very well taught and accessible. We highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about simulation. This course will likely be on the SIGGRAPH DVD, and will be taught again at SIGGRAPH 2005.


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In part because Mark Wiebe and Ben Houston did a presentation about how we created the Tar Monster for Scooby Doo 2, all of us attended the �Feature Creatures� sketches session . Based on the questions and feedback we received, we feel our presentation was a success. However, it was the last presentation that was truly amazing. William Stinson and Paul Thuriot of Tippett Studio spoke about how they created the muscle systems for the various CG Hellboy characters. At apparently near real-time speeds, their muscle system twitched, jiggled and expanded realistically in response to the animation specified by the artist. This muscle system was also featured as a short clip in the Electronic Theater.


SensAble Technologies had one of the coolest devices we saw on the exhibition floor. The Phantom Omni is a fairly reasonably priced pen tool with 6 degrees of freedom. It provides incredible feedback that allows you to feel like you are actually swinging a weight around your cursor, or sculpting a model on the screen. The people at SensAble Technologies had a version of Quake 2 (controlled by their device) running at their booth. What was truly impressive was that after approximately 30 seconds of using it for movement input, it was easy to use. Their device lets you look, move, crouch, jump, and fire all with one hand. We purchased one of their devices in the hopes of developing some tools around it to help our artists work more naturally in 3D.

Eyeon Fusion 5 Preview

There was considerable buzz about Fusion 5. This significant upgrade to the Fusion product addresses many user requests, including a text-based human readable file format, support for 3 rd party rendering packages, extensive 3D support, as well as a nice update to the overall UI aesthetics. Many of Frantic's 2D artists and TDs are quite impressed with the upgrades.

SIGGRAPH Reception

The SIGGRAPH reception is one of the best places to network and chat about potential future collaborations. It is an event not to be missed. This year's reception was held in the open-air park, Pershing Square , in downtown L.A. Due to the lack of seating areas, by default, most people ended up mingling.



NVIDIA Reception

The NVIDIA Digital Film Group was showing off the latest results of Gelato, their new hardware accelerated film quality renderer. Gelato is the latest project of Larry Gritz the creator of BMRT and author of the popular Advanced RenderMan book.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


Ben Houston presented another sketch in the Fluids and Level Set session about �RLE Sparse Level Sets.� The talk was well received, and after the sketch the R&D team was able to compare notes with a number of leading researchers in Level Sets and Fluids.

Later that afternoon we attended a sketch devoted entirely to Digital Domain . In it they presented many of the techniques they used to make the disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow . It was interesting to see the multitude of layers that went into the tornadoes, and how they combined large amounts of particle systems with their fluid simulations to create convincing whitewater.


At the ATI booth some of us managed to take in a presentation of the University of Waterloo's Sh project. Sh is a method of writing programs for ATI's 3D hardware accelerators from within a C++ program using familiar C++ language constructs such as classes and arrays. This is quite different from NVIDIA's Cg language that must be written separately from the main program source code. The tight integration of Sh with C++ will likely be a boon to game developers.

Parties / Social Events

In true SIGGRAPH tradition, this year's conference had some great parties. Most notable was the Blur Party featuring The Crystal Method . Tickets to this party were well sought after (one ticket admitted one man and three women), and somehow we all managed to get in. The SIGGRAPH Chapters party was also a crowd favorite and highlight.

Until Next Year

That concludes our tales of SIGGRAPH 2004. With that said, we'll now return our collective noses to the grindstone so that we have something cool to show off next year.

Big thanks to the Frantic Films team who contributed this intriguing perspective on SIGGRAPH 2004.

Related Links

Frantic Films Software