This is reprinted by permission of The Salt Lake Tribune.

 

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Draper company gives boost to animators

By Steven Oberbeck
The Salt Lake Tribune

 

DRAPER - Just more than a year ago, computer programmer Gary Parkin decided his career needed to go in a new direction - one he hoped would take him eventually from writing software code for 911 emergency dispatch systems to creating computer animations and visual effects.

To learn to make fish talk, gorillas sing and beautiful women smile, Parkin turned to Draper-based DAZ Productions and its software programs designed to help beginning digital artists quickly progress in creating their own animations.


"My background in programming helped little when it came to learning computer animation," Parkin said. "Animation is a whole different world, a whole different way of thinking. There are some pretty good programs out there now, though, that make it easy for just about anyone to get started."

The first computer animation Parkin created was relatively simplistic. In a scene running only a few seconds, a woman turns her head and winks.

Parkin quickly progressed to creating an animated fish that spoke in a voice resembling the late actor Rodney Dangerfield. Later animations involved a gorilla walking through the jungle and finding an electric guitar, picking it up and playing; and a group of society women engaged in what turns out to be a rather unsophisticated tea party.

"The tea party was my most complicated animation to date," Parkin said. "It consisted of 12 separate animations and took two months to complete. I got a lot of help, though, from some ladies in our church."

 

When DAZ founders Chris Creek and Dan Farr look on Parkin's Web site at
http://www.parkin-fx.com as well as those of other aspiring animators, they see the culmination of more than four years of work bringing the tools used in 3-D animation to the masses.

"A lot of our customers are interested only in creating single images with our programs," Farr said, noting that DAZ's software for designing digital world images has been used to create art and advertisements in publications that include The Wall Street Journal, Wired and Scientific American magazines.

Others, though, want to bring the digital images they create to life on the computer screen, he said.
"Although the programs that the movie studios use are more sophisticated and expensive, if someone wanted to create a full-length movie or a short film using our programs, they probably could do it," Farr said. "And our programs are getting better all the time."


DAZ's core program - DAZ Studio - is available from the company's Web site, http://www.daz3d.com, as a free download.

The program can be used to shape, morph and animate DAZ's well-known 3-D model "Victoria" into a svelte Scandinavian beauty, a freckled-faced Midwestern tomboy, an ancient Egyptian queen or any other imaginable image of the female form.

DAZ, which is short for Digital Art Zone, makes its money by selling additional models for "DAZ Studio" - from dragons to cave trolls - and offering other programs for those who want to further explore the animation art form.


Its "Bryce 5.0" program is used to create digital environments, either real or fantastical, where artists can place their characters. The company's "Mimic Pro" is used to animate faces and synchronize speech with different expressions and the movement of a character's mouth.

"Animating a character's speech is one of the most difficult things for a digital artist to do. If you do bad facial expressions or your audio file isn't in sync with the character when it is speaking, people definitely will notice," said William Vaughn, an instructor at the DAVE (Digital Animation & Visual Effects) School that operates on the lot of Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla.

The DAVE School's most recent graduating class used DAZ's Mimic Pro program to create speech effects for the senior project, "Batman New Times," Vaughn said. "It made a night-and-day difference in their work. Within a few hours of getting the program, they [the students] were already working on and quickly overcoming what would have been a major obstacle."

The school, however, doesn't use other DAZ programs. Those programs already come with built-in models for manipulation by animators, Vaughn said. "We want our students, by themselves, to be learn to create their own models and scenes."

 

Creek, who has a background in medical illustration, and Farr were partners in Zygote Media Group, a spinoff of the Orem-based Viewpoint DataLabs, which was well-known in the entertainment and software industries for creating and publishing one of the world's largest libraries of 3-D digital images. One of Viewpoint's most famous creations was the dancing baby that appeared on the Ali McBeal television show, an image that Creek developed.
Zygote was organized to create 3-D models for computer games but Farr and Creek soon developed a different dream.

 

They saw a demand for entry-level computer animation programs - software that would allow would-be computer artists to enter a world previously only available to those with plenty of money to spend and the computer power to back them up.

 

DAZ is exploring offering medical imaging programs for use in high schools and universities. It expects soon to offer improved or less expensive versions of its animation products.

Mimic Pro, which retails for approximately $199, soon will be supplemented with a Mimic Light program that will offer most of the same features but for less than $50. "When our customers see what we're going to come up with for them next, it will be like they've entered Willy Wonka's chocolate factory," Creek said.

DAZ Productions

What the software does: DAZ's programs allow users to create their own animations and digital-world images. Its core program, DAZ Studio, can be used to manipulate the look of pre-designed models and provide animation to the characters. Mimic Pro is a program used to make animated characters talk. For more information visit http://www.daz3d.com.