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Novedge is the leading online store for design software. Visit our website for unparalleled search, comparison charts, and licensing information for over 8,000 titles at competitive prices.
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Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Florin Stanculescu: My name is Florin Stanculescu, I am the Project Lead and Technical Artist on FaceRig. Together with a few friends and colleagues we hope to build something fun and fresh that would both entertain and spark creativity in many people around the world. :)
I have been involved in the game development industry wearing many different hats for almost 13 years and even though FaceRig is not a game per se, the technology used for the real time render and animation is pretty much identical. So there's a lot of know-how accumulated over the course of many years that fuels the FaceRig project.
Novedge: How did you come up with the idea for FaceRig?
Florin Stanculescu: Hmm, well that depends if you mean the basic idea of FaceRig (becoming any character by making faces at your webcam) , or the expanded FaceRig vision (a full high quality framework for virtual puppeteering and actors in a simulated digital environment, with an expandable/configurable sensor setup, and potentially haptic feedback as well).
The basic idea itself is not new, because at its core is just expression mocap coupled with real time visualization. It has been used in the game industry (and movie industry) for a long time, it's just never been brought to home use at a decent level of quality, at an affordable price, and as an open creation/expression platform. So I guess this is what we bring to the table: low cost, openness and commitment to quality. Maybe also the fact that we plan to make it very very easy to use.
The expanded vision is well... the expanded vision and what it can lead to is a bit nuts to be honest, and it comes from the sci-fi movies of our childhood... the expanded vision is our way of taking part in the worldwide effort of building the kind of entertainment platform that sci-fi movies have always tantalized us with.
We realized we had to try this on our own because it seems not many big companies are truly investing in it and researching this as a priority. The Oculus Rift after all came from a small start-up and not a big company, and that's only the most notable example. There's always a distinct need for passionate people working diligently in small companies if we are to have the Star Trek Holodeck, or the Matrix brain jack within our life time.
We do not delude ourselves that we will crack this problem on our own in the near future, but if FaceRig gains traction, we're determined to reinvest what we make into research (hardware and software) and to push hard in that direction, and hopefully others will try and do that too, and together we'll get somewhere. That's why our start-up company is called Holotech Studios :).
Novedge: What has been most important in developing and growing a successful team?
Florin Stanculescu: I wouldn't rush to call us successful already, we have a product to deliver first and we really are not the type to count the chickens before they are hatched :).
Let's see FaceRig in the hands of everyone, let's see them having fun with it, then we'll make the call if the team was successful or not :)
Sure we had a good campaign, but is that truly our merit alone? At least half of the credit goes to our enthusiastic backers, who have spread the news far and wide.
To put things in perspective: our marketing budget was a grand 300 US dollars (because really that was about all the money we could spare for the project at that point in time).
Most of it was spent on commissioning voice and translation services from Fiverr for the unveiling movie, and writing and distributing a proper press release. That's about it.
Everything else was our awesome audience, and genuine people who have resonated with what we are trying to do.
True, so far we've been successful at getting folks excited and willing to help :). We got discounts from anyone we've worked with, because everyone gets really excited when they see what we are trying to build. Technology licensing, web development, even our office space costs, we got good deals on all of that after we showed people what we are trying to build, so yeah I suppose we are doing something right. Probably it stems from the fact that all the team members are passionate about this and have a long history together in the game development trenches.
Novedge: How many characters are going to be available on FaceRig? Will it be possible for users to create their own characters?
Florin Stanculescu: FaceRig is going to be an open creation platform, we will try to train everyone to build their dream character.
We're hoping to get fast to a virtually infinite crowd-sourced character library.
What characters we build won't be that important in the larger picture... what we will build will probably be just the springboard for everyone else to jump in.
If you want cold hard numbers about what the team is going to build, we'll probably start with at least ten characters, and each expansion pack will probably add ten more (or more with the funds for outsourcing).
Novedge: You received great support on Indiegogo. What advice would you give to anyone looking into financing their project using that platform?
Florin Stanculescu: Learn from those who have done it before you, but also make sure you filter what won't work in your particular case.
Be honest about what you are trying to do, and make sure that it is something that matters to a lot of people.
Treat your backers with respect, and do whatever it takes to answers all their questions and concerns as honestly and as quickly as possible.
Novedge: What's next for FaceRig?
Florin Stanculescu: Right now? Finalizing the campaign and development. Tons and tons of development for the core features, and for the stretch goals, and all of it with community updates of course.
We are just at alpha, we'll have to pull apart our avatar system, put it back together again, and we'll have to do this many times, each time learning something new, each time a bit better. Then extra sensor support. Audio engine. Streaming engine. Virtual devices. The list is very long.
The is still time to donate to the FaceRig team and to get a beta license, check the project on Indiegogo. And don't forget to visit their website and to like FaceRig on Facebook.
Do you want us to feature your creative project? Get in touch with the Novedge Team on Twitter.
Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
photo by Chris Ryan
Novedge: What is the vision behind CODAME?
Bruno Fonzi:CODAME exists to push the boundaries of technology with an emphasis on artistic expression and creativity. We unite independent artists, coders, and game developers to celebrate the intersection of ART+TECH. We are a deeply engaged and dynamic community pushing the boundaries of hardware, software, and physical/digital mediums. We like to have fun too! The key components of CODAME are social, informal, independent, open and collaborative. CODAME events currently average about 300 participants and for our latest festival, there were over 1600 art+tech people registered.
Novedge: What surprised you the most about running this series of events? What have you learned throughout the years?
Bruno Fonzi: After four years and more than 30 events, my biggest surprise has been how fast the CODAME ART+TECH community has grown! In our 2013 CODAME ART+TECH Festival, we had an entire building in SOMA [a neighborhood in San Francisco], 5 floors, unfortunately the venue was not big enough to accommodate everyone. Now we need much bigger venues! We began as a small group of friends connecting either in a living room, meeting at a park for a BBQ, having bonfires on the beach or sailing around the San Francisco Bay. We all shared the same passion for art and technology, talked about our current projects, code, design challenges, while having fun. I am continually inspired by and learning from the CODAME community. I believe inspiration is a key factor to the success of CODAME. We aim to bring the same inspiration and motivation back to the organizations where people work.
photo by Sam Wolson
Novedge: What can artists learn from technologists and vice versa? Why is it important to explore the intersection of art and technology?
Bruno Fonzi: We're an eclectic bunch of artists and technologists. We learn by collaborating and are motivated and inspired by each other, and then, incredible things happen. This is what CODAME is about: bringing people together with different skill sets, all interested in learning, sharing and building beautiful inspirational works. Exploring the intersection of art and technology is important as we leverage evolving technology and creative innovation to build amazing works that may have been unthinkable in the past. We use new technology as our playground to build art.
Novedge: You decided to start your own company. What are some of the rewards and challenges of founding and being part of a start-up?
Bruno Fonzi: I'm drawn towards the small start-up energy. I love being surrounded by a very motivated team, building something from scratch and innovating. Disrupting and changing the industry as we know it today is a great reward. Lanica was founded with very talented people I had the pleasure of previously collaborating with. We know our strengths and our weaknesses. We are all experienced in producing quality products, and we also enjoy our work, which makes for a great working environment and a successful company. The challenges are endless, but results are the most exciting part of a start-up. Finding solutions and making our customers successful are our main goals.
Novedge: What makes Lanica's platform special?
Novedge: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self before embarking in your current career?
Bruno Fonzi: "Expect the unexpected, embrace change, and your follow your passion!" At least, in regard to my career. More importantly, if given the opportunity, I would remind myself that I will be a very lucky man with a wife and family who support me and accept the sacrifices a start-up life entails. Make the time to play with the kids and build games with them too!
Jose Sanchez: Once I started teaching, I was surprised at the little amount of resources that Academia had to teach something like code, at least for architects. I had to spend a lot of time finding the right material and making sense of scattered pieces of information found on the internet. In this regard, initiatives like the open-source movement and video sites like the Khan Academy or Academic Earth were a big inspiration to start a teaching protocol that I continue to this day. I call this protocol the Plethora-Project, it documents every step of teaching that I have done through the years. A place to make accessible to other the sometimes laborious work of making sense of some material. In a way it was something that I wish I had when I was learning, so I decided to start building it myself. Today the Plethora Project has over 150 videos of computational knowledge, from programming tutorials, to modeling and rendering.
In 2010 I realized that the videos where not enough and that it was time to take the next step, which for me was writing a library of code. In a way, a library allows others to access some functionality and knowledge in a faster way.
The Plethora Library for Processing has been growing slowly, but it sits within a larger framework of open source tools that many professionals like myself are sharing today over the internet.
Novedge: What are some recent projects that you worked on?
Jose Sanchez: In a way, the Bloom project has been a turning point in my career. It's with this project that I decided to pursue in a much stronger way an agenda that deals with architecture and games.
Bloom was an installation for the 2012 London Olympics competition that Alisa and I won over several stages of judging. The project suggests an interactive pavilion made out of thousands of identical units that could be assembled by people in order to create different formations.
Bloom was installed in 3 different locations during the London Olympics: Victoria Park, Greenwich and UCL main Quad. The initial formation invited people to play and participate altering and building new structures. Every user, including the Bloom team, had to learn how to ‘PLAY’, as no blueprints were present at the moment of construction. The rules of the structure become self-evident at the moment of iteration and improvisation. The formations were created live outside the realm of simulated forecasts, but within a notion of contingent adaptations.
Bloom became an educational game. Encouraging people to work together to create all sorts of structures. People soon realized that by following "recipes" or sequences, they could repeat formations and discover hidden patterns. Rhythmicity created loops, and logic allowed kids to create solid structures. The game mechanics designed into the project enabled the local adaptation of the piece, allowing for contingent formations in every site. In this context, Bloom became a social experiment on the use of game logics as a crowd-source medium of adaptation.
We designed the project using Processing and Rhino. The initial sketches where done in processing but we soon needed to strengthen the geometrical platform to deal with fabrication.
We scripted our tools in Python within Grasshopper to be able to see in real-time the potential variations of the unit, and at the same time see the result of the recursive aggregation unfolding. This workflow allowed us to determine the main angles that would be used for the piece. This was the moment in which we started collaborating with Manja van de Worp from Arup to define the structural capacities of the piece. We iterated many times that the unit as the whole project was dealing with only one design. Additionally, we designed the component to work as urban furniture arraying the unit through a helicoidally bent steel structure. This "bench" would work as the main support for the more intuitive formations done with the over 60.000 units we manufactured.
The project presents a central thesis of how game mechanics could become a tool for crowdsourcing design. It is in that context that the project allowed me to start the "gamescapes" research in the GAD in UCL. I have been working closely with a small group of students developing research on the connection between architecture and games. The studio suggests games as a design heuristics looking at how to create models of man-computer symbiosis where the designer, coupled with algorithmic intelligence, can "play" in order to design different outputs. The studio is reaching the end of its first iteration and all games and experiments can be accessed for free here.
Credits: Wireflies, research project by Iro Karantaki, Dimitra Angelopoulou and Vassia Diamanti within ‘Gamescapes’ at Bartlett UCL. Tutor: Jose Sanchez
Additionally, I’m developing an architectural video game soon to be released, but I cannot show any material yet as it’s still a work in progress.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Jose Sanchez: I constantly migrate from one software to another, I feel that most platforms offer something different but I try to give more importance to learning what doesn’t change from one software to another, like geometry or math. It’s quite easy to learn the interface of a new software if you understand the key geometrical concepts that you are operating with. For instance, knowing what to expect from a Nurbs model versus a Mesh is something that I keep repeating to students. The same applies to scripting. The syntax of a new scripting language is not difficult to learn, what is important is to understand the different paradigms behind each language.
Having said this, I spent a lot of time in Processing and Rhino. Both modelling and scripting. Grasshopper is also a great tool that I use a lot, but I really enjoy having a run time environment like Processing. I feel that coding allows me to accumulate the knowledge of a project in a more consistent way. The concepts of inheritance and encapsulation from object-oriented programming I feel are key to developing a more sustainable design practice.
Lately I have migrated to Unity3D. I feel really happy with the platform. The welcome the ability to distribute and communicate some of the ideas behind generative design with a much larger community. I feel that sometimes our discipline becomes quite obscure and starts using a vocabulary that hides or pretends the actual processes we are dealing with. This is what I describe as obscurantism in design practices. I’m strongly against it. This is why both my practice and teaching have been developed around ideas of open source.
Novedge: Your practice combines different disciplines. How do they inform each other?How important are collaborations and team work?
Jose Sanchez: I truly believe that the boundaries of what we consider traditional disciplines are starting to blur and we are seeing more and more professionals that operate in an ‘in-between’ space. That is why I decided to organize a monthly event called the Bartlett Nexus trying to wire together some of the individuals that are often collaborating via open source projects but don’t know each other. In this scenario, collaborations do not happen in the way of bringing in a specialist from another field but rather work by implementing and hybridizing the material that each one of the individuals participating is already sharing online. I see this landscape of designers with their own set of open-source tools as a completely new framework for collaboration, where much smaller practices can strategically scale or tackle complex projects.
Today, a format like the Meet Up is starting to become a strong form of collaboration and perpetual learning strategy, challenging traditional models of practice and research. We are seeing a proliferation of tools, games and software being developed by skilled individuals that are wired in new ways. This is an exciting time to develop a practice that can both develop new projects from some of the accumulated resources within the community, and share the progress or tools developed with them.
You can see more of Jose's work at the Plethora Project's website or follow him on Twitter.
Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Yuri Alexander: My name is Yuri Alexander. I'm 28 years old. I live near Seattle, Washington. I live with my wife, 8 month old daughter, and our dog, and I have been focusing on Computer Graphics since 2007, specifically realtime art for games.
I've been doing art in one form or another most of my life. I worked in graphic design after high-school, but when I discovered Computer Graphics, something clicked. The mix of technical and artistic scratches all of my creative itches, and it's been a field I've loved since then.
After being laid off from a graphics design position, I made the choice to put my effort into getting involved in the games industry, which is a goal I've been after for the last three years.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Yuri Alexander: My latest piece, Shadows, was a personal piece, and perhaps my favorite so far. It was also my first finished foray into photo-realism, and one of my first serious attempts overall at rendering. I chose to do it because I've been watching the skill-sets between games and movies converging, and I felt that having some familiarity with traditional renders and shaders would be good experience and would give me some problem-solving flexibility.
My conception for the piece was a woman standing in dark, with moody lighting and realistic shaders, with an unnamed presence hovering behind her. I knew going in that if I wanted to do the piece correctly, I would have to learn a good deal more about materials and about photography.
My favorite part of the process was detailing. In games, you are working with a limited budget. Most of the time you are aiming to create something that looks good from a distance, and presentable up close. True details that require effects, high polygon counts, and large texture sizes are generally off-limits.
A good deal of the piece ended up being straight trial and error, or the brute force method. I would create, render, learn from what was and wasn't working, and then go back into ZBrush and Photoshop and Maya and preserve the good while I whittled away at the bad. In the end, I had to try out quite a few material setups, lighting rigs, and compositions, before I found something I liked.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Yuri Alexander: I typically start all of my projects in Silo2. I learned Silo back before I had gotten into Maya, and although many of it's tools are present in the latter, to me, Silo is poly modeling at it's fastest and least encumbered. I use it to establish base meshes and do preliminary UV layouts, and also later in the process for checking game-res meshes and texture work.
For high-poly sculpting, I use ZBrush. I've used other clay modelers, and for texturing I still prefer Mudbox, but the mix of organic and hard-surface tools in ZBrush means that I can get 80-90 percent of my work done in a single application, which keeps me moving and focused on the art, and not necessarily the technicalities or the tedium of transferring between task-specific applications.
If I'm rendering, I use Maya and V-Ray, and sometimes Mental Ray. I find that both engines excel at different tasks, but because a lot of my work is character focused V-Ray is my go-to.
If I am creating a game-res character, then I use Silo and Xnormal. Silo is a perfect for tweaking meshes and modifying UVs, and then exporting to Xnormal for bake.
Finally, for texturing, I use Photoshop. For game-res models, I find Ndo2 indispensable, and dDo is becoming quite a tool as well. While I texture, I prefer to tweak and view my materials in either Marmoset Toolbag or UnrealDK.
Novedge: What inspires you?
Yuri Alexander: I think like most or many artists I'm inspired by just about everything I come into contact with. Specifically, though, I have an appreciation for writing. Writers live and die by style and creativity. In CG, sometimes it is enough to discard both style and creativity, and simply recreate the world detail for detail through the lens of a computer. My favorite CG artists and the ones who inspire me, are those that use the medium to push reality, and show us something that cannot or should not exist, or show us something that does exist in a way that we hadn't considered.
I also appreciate architecture, and, if I wasn't pursuing games, I think I'd want to be in arch-vis.
Novedge: What are the rewards and challenges of working freelance?
Yuri Alexander: The biggest reward is that I get to be home with my daughter full time. To me that outweighs every con of freelancing, and there are some big ones.
Keeping yourself on task can be difficult even with a quiet house. But with a baby learning to walk and play, it can be even harder. Freelancers also have to be good money managers, because the income is sporadic and can turn lean, and planning for those times is essential.
I appreciate the variety of projects I get to be involved with. At once I can be working on a game-res character or prop, and also getting 3D scan-data to work with and modify, or doing a random bit of graphic design. It allows me to be more scatter-brained than if I was concentrating on one single piece of a larger pipeline.
Novedge: What's next for you?
Yuri Alexander: I'm excited right now to be working with a small company on a 3D scan and print project. While I can't say too much about the project itself, I've been interested in scanning and printing for a couple of years. I'm glad to be getting the experience, especially as 3D printers are becoming more mainstream.