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Member in the Spotlight: Hot Knife Digital Media – Innovating with 3D Software

Hot Knife Digital Media is an animation studio that produce character animation, special effects and motion graphics. 

Twenty years ago we produced one of the first narrative 3D animations for broadcast television. It was produced with software that at the time was described as an ‘engineering visualisation’ package. "3D Studio" had evolved from a CAD based origin, it was very basic but had become a viable option to create three dimensional models, animate and render them.

 

It was the time when a hard drive was the size of a shoe-box and cost around £1000 and computers ran the command line operating system DOS. With the combination of an off the shelf computer, engineering software and some specialised video cards we could tailor build an animation system that was comparable to proprietary high end products that cost three times the amount of ours. Today’s smart phones have more power and capability but it was enough technology for us to tell a story with. We produced an animated film called “Angel Bait” which took nine months to complete, was ten minutes long and was broadcast late at night 20 years ago this April. (I'm not providing a link but you are welcome to search for it.)
 

Over the years 3D software has remained at the heart of how we work and the type of work we produce. How we have delivered our work has evolved as new mediums of communication have come into existence, from the analogue days of tape delivery through Cd-rom, Dvd and now the internet - we’ve adapted these new mediums to communicate our projects.

 

Previously we would render an architectural visualisation but now we offer an interactive tour of the same environment using gaming technology to deliver a web based experience.
 

Realtime Store Visualisation

http://www.hotknife.co.uk/3d-online/3d-store-visualisation/

 

Similarly the products or characters we build virtually can be rendered and animated or delivered interactively online.

 

Not only have new mediums of delivery brought opportunities but the emergence of new data types has brought the challenge of how to effectively communicate this data. A current project for Trent and Peak Archaeology is an example of how we need to adapt our presentation to new forms of information and delivery methods. The brief is to deliver to mobile devices data collected by T&PA from Nottingham’s Caves Survey, an underground cave network which is scattered across the city, most of the network is generally inaccessible or hidden from public view.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ioyprL3Ox9Y

 

The data is a mixture of traditional text, images and video with more modern forms of data such as quicktime VR and LIDar 3D data, the information is geotagged to the location of the caves and is continually being expanded upon and updated.
 

To access the information the user is guided around the city and once at a site they will scan a QR code to download relevant site information to the phone.Our challenge is how to communicate the LIDar data, often gigabytes in size, to the user via 3G or 4G. 
 

Initially it will be presented as a streamed video but we are researching the translation of the LIDar point clouds into compressed meshes to finally be viewed on mobile devices via an augmented reality layer system, in situ below the streets of Nottingham. To accomplish this we are looking at combining existing gaming engine technology with current AR solutions.
 

Today anyone can stream “Angel Bait” our first animation from most places in the world onto a mobile phone. Should we want we could also deliver the same animation but as an interactive three dimensional ‘game’ or an augmented layer on the same phone. The challenge as ever is what to show and how to show it most effectively. The fun for us is combining new technology in a way  it may not have been intended for.

 
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