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Last year’s Christmas presents included the first version of Natron and now, not quite a year later, we have version two on its way. For a free package the new features are not bad, though it’s still strictly a 2D affair. Some good news is that the OFX interface seems a lot more stable, so it might actually be possible to use my Sapphire plug-ins. I’ll have to give this some more testing, but aside from crashes when attempting to invoke the editors for lens flares or Builder effects this looks promising.

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Adobe and the Linux Curse

An interesting discussion popped up on regarding the creation of a perfect Linux distribution for artists, over the course of which it was suggested that Adobe do it. While the idea is sound and on an idealistic level makes a lot of sense, it still falls through.

First, of course: Who as an artist actually cares for Linux? I certainly don’t. Yes, there’s lots of Open Source software like Blender that also come for Linux, but why should you even bother? The only reason I would ever use Linux if someone gave me a free 5 year license of Houdini, Maya, Nuke or some similarly expensive tool that would make putting up with all the oddities worthwile.

The second issue naturally is, that many software companies don’t care much for Linux. Well, at least the ones relevant for digital creatives. For all intents and purposes, it’s a fringe market even in the grander scheme of things. Linux as a desktop system is still somewhere in the five percent range at best and of those only a fraction actually has anything to do with 3D animation or other graphics.

As much as it may annoy fanboys, yes, it’s a numbers game where you have to weigh development and distribution cost against the potential user base and the revenue you can make. If you need any proof, you just need to take a long look at companies who have tried and then given up. There was a Linux render client for Lightwave once for a short while, you know.

In addition to the mere marketability side, there are of course serious technical issues. Distributions are still not unified, there is limited support for drivers and CoDecs, there’s all sorts of licensing issues with third-party code and ultimately a program like e.g. Cinema 4D that has an old code basis and relies on specific system libraries because traditionally it was only developed on Mac or Windows will involve a lot of work to convert it to a new platform.

When you look at Adobe, the situation becomes even more complicated. There’s like a gigazillion programs and most of them are interdependent in one way or the other. The thing is, an “icebreaker” or “flagship” program like Photoshop on Linux could attract quite a few people and it has been requested a lot of times, but what even the most ardent proponents forget is, that even this little bugger relies heavily on others.

Think of it: Without Illustrator, vector-based Smart Objects would not be editable and without Adobe Media Encoder you can’t encode videos. On a more basic level you need to worry about color management, printing, tablet support or GPU acceleration for filters. It’s staggering and the challenges are piling high.

And now we’re getting serious: Adobe don’t have a handle on their programs as it is, so would you trust them to take care of yet another version plus their own operating system? I certainly don’t and even if the CC 2015 versions weren’t the nightmare they are, the complexities speak for themselves. A simple fun fact as an example: To date they don’t support case-sensitive volumes on OS X, so how would you expect to deal with this on another system that has this?

Finally, and that’s probably the biggest issue yet, in light of the massive technical issues with Creative Cloud, the lack of customer support and the general unpopularity of the whole shebang, would I want to give them even more control and get deeper into my system? I think not. Call me an eternal pessimist if you will, but I’m not looking forward to someone controlling my program use and my files, just because everything is tied to an operating system that is just a frontend to some cloud service.

Is all hope lost? Not at all! The thing is, there’s actually room for a “Linux operating system for creatives”, it’s just going to take much more than wishful thinking and I honestly have no idea who would/ should do it. Everyone seems to either have their own agenda or no clue how to make it user friendly plus, of course, the Linux landscape is still too fragmented to commit to anything. Perhaps some day the requirement to create content for Steam Boxes and Android might lead to a need for more native tools on Linux, but in my opinion we’re still far away from that…

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The Grove doesn’t groove

…with me at least. It seems we’re in a phase where there’s a new plant generation tool coming out every week. This one, called The Grove 3D, runs as a paid plug-in to Blender. Yes, that free Open Source 3D program you never used. While they have some half-baked hubub about the alleged “science” used in the plug-in, similar to last week’s Forester I’m not too convinced.

It’s clear that the tool was originally not developed with other users in mind and some of its features are just crude simplifications. I’m all for pruning out twigs and that, but the reality is way more complex then just trimming out every n-th random branch. It also seems that there are considerable issues with the generated geometry in terms of being too dense and disconnected.

Speaking of geometry – Lightwave is finally getting a new geometry engine according to this post. Not that things have ever been completely unworkable, but I can’t count the scripts, plug-ins and workarounds that I’ve seen over the years to fix up weight maps or pin objects to that waving cloth or whatever. This sounds promising.

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Knit your own Fabric!

My hyper-stimulated nerd genes love dabbling in obscure “generative” software and node-based interfaces are just always nice, so quite imaginably, the now released Fabric Engine 2 with Canvas is just up my alley. For now it’s of limited practical use to me because the plug-ins for modo and Cinema 4D are still in Beta, but I might perhaps slap together a few assemblies just for fun. It’s available as a totally free unlimited evaluation (with a forced interruption every 15 minutes and a nag screen), which me like very much. For now that’s better than those 200 bucks a year for Houdini Indie, ‘cos my software budget at the moment is exactly zero, unfortunately.

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Sapphire goes 9

Same procedure as every year, I guess. Just like there will be predictably a new version of your favorite program every year, plug-in vendors follow suit and pimp their products in the same cycles. Sapphire 9 is now out for your pleasure and you can download it from the GenArts site. No real changes to the lens flares stuff, but a few new effects and of course a massive expansion on the Builder effects introduced last year. I’ve dabbled with it on and off, but I’ve been so busy lately, I never actually finished my presets. Maybe one of those days I get around to it and can dump them herefor everyone’s perusal.

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Grow me a Forest…

While I’m currently not using Cinema 4D, I still follow developments and combined with my obsession about virtual plant generation, Forester could be of some relevance, but then again maybe not. I take issue with a few things that are all too apparent even from the demo videos.

  • The trees look crude and very “artificially generated”. They remind me of a plug-in called TreesDesigner back then in the golden Lightwave days. Examples of those ugly trees can be seen in many TV series from that era that have Lightwave VFX in them such as Babylon 5 or Firefly.
  • The growth simulation looks just awful. Scaling your plants to make them appear? RLY?
  • The so-called “industry-leading wind effects” just look like what they probably are – some sort of 3D noise whose force multipliers propagate across the different sub-elements. Even the settings for it are a dead giveaway. if you need that many controls, then perhaps it’s not as sophisticated as they want you to believe. I always thought “real” wind behavior should automatically be derived from parameters like surface area, density/ rigidity of the lements and how elements facing the wind shield others, reducing the overall effect. Or in other words: It doesn’t look real at all to me.
  • Speaking of which, the whole interface seems like a bloody mess. There’s like twenty tabs and on each of them equally as many sliders. Given Cinema 4Ds architecture and paradigms, I would have expected a more elegant solution where e.g. wind would be a deformer.

With that being said, the part that’s enticing me is the Multiflora thing. There seem to be lots of ways to control distribution and some of the examples could indeed pass for a real meadow. Even if I always considered myself reasonably masterful at e.g. coercing MoGraph to place my clones where I wanted them, getting organic distribution of nature elements is an art in itself. You can have the most beautiful individual trees, but still produce an ugly forest, if you get my meaning. That’s definitely one of those areas where nobody has found the best solution yet.

It’s quite a mixed bag, but things being that there aren’t too many plant tools overall and most plant plug-ins for Cinema 4D have shortcomings or are dysfunctional in one way or another, it’s always good to have one more option. in fact if they can improve their overall user experience and quickly expand their plant libraries they could be onto something here.

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Miracles happen?

Maxon, what took you so long? When it comes to being closed up, they were closed up as someone who has been tied, gagged and plugged during a BDSM play session (yes, I know how that stuff works; feel free to ask). Gathering from this thread over at CGTalk it seems they’re finally coming around. Did Nigel and many others leaving finally change their minds? For now the pertinent takeaway is:

  • Cineware will use OpenGL previews in the next versions, though that was on of those “my mom could have told” you inevitable things. No real surprise there.
  • MoGraph is being worked on. My prediction is that they are probably taking a good dose of cues from X-Particles or integrate it right away. Otherwise it’s about time. Even when it was fresh, MoGraph‘s infrastructure was already superior to Thinking Particles and I just never understood why they didn’t move on from there.
  • Bodypaint is not dead. I take that mostly as a sign that finally there may be some decent UV layout tools one day. I’m not too convinced they could compete with Mari or Substance Painter for the actual painting, but anything is possible.

It may be worth keeping an eye on this thread and then later on their blog, though I wouldn’t expect them top tell you the color of their underwear. “Openness” from a company is a different thing than what users usually expect.


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