Tuesday, 26 June 2007

MaxScript tutorial DVD resources...

MaxScript (Discreet's 3D Studio Max embedded scripting language) has been a major part of my development work the past year or so and, as with many before me, I have struggled to find adequate tutorial resources for it. It is common knowledge that MaxScripting is similar to a ... "black art" in more ways than one, i.e. a sought after set of skills but with few people willing to learn it or indeed practice it. This results in only a couple of very sparse reference books/manuals out there and of course the help files Max offers to assist you along the way...

Luckily, this situation has been recently improved by some very useful instructional DVDs produced by the people at http://www.cg-academy.net.

These 3 instructional (Fundamendals 1&2 and The Matrix:Explained) DVDs cover a range of issues and are suitable for a range of MaxScript programmers, starting from the beginner to the very-experienced technical 3D artist. The material on them have been compiled by two of the foremost leading experts in MaxScripting (and people with a vast experience in the 3D industry and impressive CVs) and I can heartily recommend them for anyone willing to delve into this type of programming. On the site you will also be able to find other instructional DVDs too (for topics such as rigging, texturing etc.) but I will leave you to explore these for yourselves...

iPhone and GPS capabilities...

As it is known, and despite initial rumours, Apple scrapped the idea of integrating GPS capabilities to their soon-to-be-launched (in the US anyway) iPhone device, a device expected to lead the revolution of convergent technologies in the mobile world. However, a new rumour (which is even more controversial than their earlier decision not to have a GPS) suggests that there will be a second version of the device in 2008, probably due out at Macworld or early spring, which will incorporate a GPS receiver using assisted GPS technology (where location data is gathered from mobile phone masts as well as satellites for a faster fix on the iPhone’s position).

While there could be a long discussion as to how bad a move that could potentially be (it's a decision that has been repeated by other companies in the past, with often catastrophic results, think Nintento DS/DS-Lite) it is very interesting to see how soon an iPhone with a GPS will be available in the market as it will open up the door for a range of new research ideas and innovative applications...

V-Ray plug-in for SketchUp

For the last few weeks (and as fairly late newcomer) I have been exploring Google's SketchUp capabilities regarding 3D urban/building modelling. I have been using higher-level 3D modelling apps for a number of years now (mainly 3D Studio Max and Softimage XSI), long before SketchUp was released, and was thus a bit skeptical about using it in my work. It seems however that Google's application has been catching up and is day by day climbing the ladder in order to compete with the more serious 3D graphics packages.

One of the developments highlighting this is the very recent release of the V-Ray plug-in by ASGVIS for SketchUp. V-Ray is a rendering plug-in (originally released initially for 3D Studio Max a few years ago, now for a range of apps) enabling visualization professionals with state-of-the-art rendering solution that generates high-quality images of unparalleled photo-realism. SketchUp's render options are now easier (and much more enhanced) than ever, with default render settings reflecting correct settings for indirect illumination, the V-Ray Sun, V-Ray Sky and sampling levels. Some examples in the pics below....

Some of the V-Ray plug-in features include (for a longer list check http://www.asgvis.com);true raytraced reflections and refractions, glossy reflections and refractions, area shadows (soft shadows), box and sphere emitters, depth-of-field camera effects, antialiasing, caustics, a fully multithreaded raytracing engine, true HDRI support and finally distributed rendering allowing a single image to be processed over up to 10 machines...

SketchUp itself can be downloaded at http://www.sketchup.com (Google offers a free edition with limited functionalities which nonetheless can give the newcomer a good idea of how the full package works).

Friday, 22 June 2007

Virtual Dublin project

For today's entry another digital 3D city... This time it's a 3D recreation of Dublin. What makes this attempt at modelling an urban area different to most others is the fact that it comes not from industry professionals but from University staff/students, namely of Trinity College Dublin. Apart from accurately modelling the capital of Ireland the purpose of this project is also to create an immersive virtual urban environment which is capable of running in real-time on domestic hardware with further consideration to modelling traffic conjestion, crowd motion and finally integrating the model with handheld devices for guiding purposes.

Additional information can be found here, including more details about the project, sample pics & videos, conference & journal publications that have stemmed from the work and even sample models (in .OBJ file format) that can be downloaded. The quality of work here is definitely representative of what academia can offer in the world of 3D urban modelling and is well worth a look.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

3D urban modelling and AR in real estate applications

3D urban modelling can today be combined with a number of various other computing fields so that its application to real world scenarios is even more enhanced. One of these fields is augmented reality and one application where the combination of these two seems to be making an increasing contribution is real estate design and construction.

By combining 3D models of buildings in AR the ability to improve building and construction productivities can be potentially offered, often via digitalized spatial information database, automated design technologies and construction management processes. Solutions produced using this way can visibly help real estate developers to obtain the best design solution, use the most efficient construction and production method available and even adopt the most advanced information technology solutions in order to improve factors such as (to name but a few) the development potential, profitability, quality, development cost, time and risk factors of the buildings that are going to be constructed.

As an example of all this I have included a Youtube link (here) for a Hong Kong-based company that makes use of 3D urban modelling and AR in a real estate design scenario, called i-Tecton (http://www.i-tecton.com). The results, as can be seen on the short video, are nothing short of impressive and I expect that many other companies in this market will start utilizing similar technologies for the purposes described above...

Monday, 18 June 2007

Getaway for PS3

As many have argued before video games drive (and have been driving for a while now) many technological advances in computer science today. One of the most prominent ones has got to be urban modelling. A few years ago a London studio called SCEE produced a game for the PS2 called Getaway which featured a photorealistic model of UK's capital with particular attention to detail. With the advent of Sony's PS3 the title is given a new look and with it the 3D city model itself (new features include a much larger area modelled, new lighting techniques, traffic modelling and others). You can have a glance at the revamped model in question at the following YouTube link (here), the results are so good it is practically like walking in London streets yourself.

The screenshots above also verify how 3D city models in games are heads and shoulders above in quality than anything produced in other fields. Can't wait for the official release of the title.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

GPS used in portable video games...

It seems exciting times lie ahead for GPS gaming and mobile devices; forget the all-too-simple games that have been made available so far. Recently a PSP GPS receiver was released as an add-on for the popular Sony device (pictured below) and many video game companies appear keen to utilize this in their products.

One of the first proper major commercial titles to take advantage of this new add-on is Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. According to the PSP Vault website (http://www.psp-vault.com/) this is how the GPS comes into play in the game.

"The game allows you to use the GPS to recruit new soldiers. The concept is pretty simple. Your PSP, when using the GPS receiver, acts as a sort of "radar" that you use to find new soldiers in your area. Here's a short video (YouTube Link) of what you normally see:

The little circles are soldiers that can be recruited. It's your job to find them! The large circle in the middle, at my best guess, has a radius of about half a mile. So while using the feature may be faster with a car, you *should* do it on foot for safety reasons. In fact, doing it on foot may actually be easier in big cities or in really small cities without a lot of roads (because your soldier may be out in the middle of a field or something).

As you move around, the PSP GPS receiver gets signals from satellites so your PSP can tell where it is in the world. Thus, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops can tell you when you're getting close to your soldier. It helps to know if you're heading north, south, east, or west, so you might want to figure that out before you set out to find your soldier. Otherwise you'll find yourself guessing it east is a right turn or a left turn, and so on...

Here's me driving around to find one of my soldiers (YouTube Link). As you get closer, you can zoom in to get better detail about exactly where your soldier is. The video is in two parts because I had to edit out the part where I turned into a dead end. Also, you'll probably want to turn your sound off for the second video (YouTube Link) since there was some sort of error during editing with the sound. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing.

When you get within "range" of your soldier (I suspect the "range" is about 100 square feet), you can recruit him. I got this guy... (YouTube Link)

Overall, I have to say that it's a very interesting feature. This sort of stuff is exactly what Sony has in mind for the PSP GPS accessory. I look forward to more games taking advantage of it!

Laval Virtual 2007

I recently spent a few days at the annual Laval Virtual international conference in France which were not only very enjoyable but also very interesting as I experienced first-hand a lot of cutting virtual reality research. I also presented my own work there and you can find a link both to the presentation itself (here) and also to the publication itself (here), titled "Automatic Modelling, Generation And Visualisation Of Realistic 3D Virtual Cities For Mobile Navigation".

I've selected some other pieces of work presented at the conference which I found worth exploring, you can find the links below. Hopefully I will be able to repeat the experience next year and manage to visit Laval Virtual again for its 10th anniversary conference.

Bayesian Networks for Scenario Generation in crisis management tools

Medical Augmented Reality, seeing the patient in transparency

Geometric & photometric calibrations, 3D tracking and realistic rendering for AR systems

Visualization of future landscapes & Environmental Visualization

Virtual Reality in Clinical Settings

Glasgow virtual city 3D model

Attempts at digitally modelling large urban areas in 3D have been documented for a number of existing cities today, from large capitals to smaller rural structures. I've singled out one to present here, not so much because it is the best or the most accurate I've seen (there's so many of them after all) but because it was generated by the Digital Design Lab at the Glasgow School of Art, as opposed to a GIS or mapping entity. For me this makes a difference in the end result as the viewer can spot the artistic sensibilities in the making of this model...

The image shown here details the amazing photo-realistic detail of the model (it is claimed that building facades are accurate to 5 mm, a very impressive feat indeed). According to the city's council the Glasgow urban model (2 years in the making and with a reported cost of £450,000) will be used in practical applications as a tool for planning, tourism and promotion plus other city functions. Below you can find a link to the model itself (which can be viewed using the TerraExplorer plug-in), some more images and some very impressive animations!




Saturday, 16 June 2007

The new VAIO UX Ultra Mobile PC

A lot of my research work is focused on mobile devices (mostly PDAs) and it is often frustrating tackling the limitations of such devices such as computational power limitations, screen resolution and size and operating system issues. Thus I was really interested when a new Sony device came to my attention, the VAIO UX.

Unlike PDAs this is for all intents and purposes a mobile Pocket PC, miniscule in size and equipped with Windows Vista too. While the price remains somewhat prohibitive at the moment it is my belief that mobile PCs will go towards this (rather unique at the moment) route rather than the more antiquated PDA/tablet path for the reasons mentioned above. Below you can find some links detailing the size and technical capabilities of the device as well as a more independent review of it.



Resistance: Fall Of Man & the Manchester Cathedral 3D model

The last few weeks a much-publicized row has broken between the Church of England and Sony Europe over a photorealistic 3D model of the Manchester Cathedral used in the video game Resistance: Fall Of Man an FPS (first person shooter) which was recently released. While the argument itself (violence in a virtual religious environment) is beside the point, it is extremely interesting to see just how far architectural 3D modelling has come in this day and age. If the virtual 3D model of a cathedral can appear so realistic that high-profile reactions like this are generated it is obvious how not only efficient but also poignant work in architectural 3D modelling is and will be in the future to come... Below you can find a link to a BBC news story on this and also some YouTube links that showcase the 3D Manchester Cathedral model.




Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Welcome message

This blog has been set up in order to present and discuss various issues related to my PhD research studies at City University, UK.

These issues range from topics directly connected to my scientific work (3D computer graphics & animation, urban modelling, mobile devices and others), all the way to new developments in all areas of computer science research...

I really do hope that people will find this blog as interesting to read as it will be interesting to me to compile the material for!