Siggraph 2017's best new tech: Cinema 4D R19, AMD and Nvidia graphics, Fusion 9, Trapcode 14 and new VR tools

From upgraded 3D and VFX software (and motion graphics plugins) to super-powerful new graphics cards – here’s the best of what’s debuted at the Siggraph 2017 conference in LA.

The Siggraph conference brings together creatives across CG, VFX, VR and more – and is where those providing tools and other technologies to those artists, animators and others reveal their latest releases.  Hundreds of announcements are made - but here we've concentrated on the biggest, can't-miss new from the likes of AMD, Blackmagic Design, HP, Maxon, Nvidia, Red Giant and more.

The conference moves around North America, and this year it’s in Los Angeles. Away from the products and services, Siggraph also sees behind-the-scenes looks at the CG-heavy films like Valerian, shown here - and the emergence of prototype animation and VR tech that could evolve into mainstream tools that we all use.

Or not.

Our correspondent Ian Failes is also scouring the show for the most exciting, groundbreaking projects and technologies - and we’ll be publishing what he discovers next week. But in the meantime, here are the hottest new tools.

The latest version of Maxon’s Cinema 4D includes new rendering capabilities – both in the viewport and for final rendering. In the viewport there are now Screen-Space Reflections and OpenGL Depth-Of-Field – which Maxon claims can be used to produce preview renders in real-time that are good enough to send to clients.

For output rendering, Cinema 4D R19 adds support for AMD’s ProRender engine. This is a fast, physically-based renderer that works on both Mac and PC. It was previously available only for Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max and CAD tools.

Also new are a spherical camera for rendering 360 content for VR and AR; more control over the Voronoi Fracturing method of procedurally breaking up objects; a Sound Effector to create animation based on audio files; and new modelling and media cores for faster overall performance – with the latter allowing you to use animated GIFs or MP4 video as textures.

C4D R19 will be out in September. It currently costs between £560 and £1,100 (both ex VAT, and including a year’s support). As you’d expect, if you buy R18 between now and when R19 comes out, you’ll get a free update to R19.

There's more info, including in-depth videos, on Maxon's website.

For creatives who like to have a laptop to work away from their desk, but want graphics performance when they are sitting behind it, Nvidia has a solution for you. Through companies such as Sonnet, from September you'll be able to buy what Nvidia calls an eGPU chassis with one of its high-end graphics cards inside – which boosts the 3D performance of your laptop (as well as other processes accelerated by your graphics card from video editing to a wide range of visual effects) when connected over Thunderbolt 3.

Inside these chassis you'll be able to have one of the Nvidia's Quadro P4000, P5000 or P6000 'workstation-class' graphics cards – or, perhaps surprisingly – a Titan X gamer cards with a specially tuned driver for use with the likes of Maya and Premiere Pro (both AMD and Nvidia seem to have realised that many users of those tools would prefer a cheaper gamer card than an expensive 'workstation-class' board).

At Siggraph, Nvidia is also showing off its DGX Station, which it describes as a 'desktop supercomputer' that's 'as powerful as a renderfarm with 150 servers'. With it debuts the OptiX 5.0 ray-tracing engine, which is it says has a specially trained AI for removing noise from scenes (as seen here).

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Red Giant has released a new version of its popular set of After Effects plugins for creating motion graphics, Trapcode. Three of the suite's 11 plugins have been upgraded - Particular, Form and Tao.

Trapcode Form lets you create 2D particles (in 3D space) and combine them with 3D models - for example to create the GUI around the helicopter model shown here. The support for 3D models is new, as is a new Designer for creating grids of particles - which has been taken from the Particular plugin.

Trapcode Particular creates 3D particle effects. The new 3.0 is GPU accelerated - which Red Giant says allows it to be up to four times faster than the previous version. You can now combine multiple particle systems within the same effect, and use 3D models as emitters for particles. 

Trapcode Tao 1.2 adds a depth-of-field effect to the plugin for create 3D geometries that follow a path, for more realistic results.

The new version of Blackmagic's VFX software sees the price of the Studio version for, er, studios drop to $299 (around £239) from $999. The standard version remains free.

There are new features too. For VR projects, you can put a 360-degree spherical camera into Fusion's 3D workspace - and view those scenes using an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. You can output 360 video in a single pass.

Also new is a 3D matchmoving camera tracker, and a new planar tracker for tasks such as camera stabilisation and compositing elements onto flat-but-moving areas such as the side of truck accelerating away from the camera. Data from the planar tracker can also be used when animating rotoscoped shapes.

For the rest of Fusion 9's many new features, see Blackmagic's website.

AMD has released its most powerful graphics card so far – the Radeon RX Vega 64. But this is aimed at gamers. We get the slightly less powerful – at least in terms of raw computing power – Radeon Pro WX 9100. This offers 12.3TFLOPS to the RX Vega 64’s 13.7TFLOPS – but the WX 9100 is certified for use with all of the major 3D animation tools from the likes of Autodesk.

The WX 9100 has 16GB of RAM and is the first to use HBM2, which has 55% higher bandwidth than older GDDR5 memory so it can input and output data from your scenes faster. AMD says the WX9100 offers over twice the performance of the company’s previous fastest card.

Arriving alongside the WX 9100 on September 13 is the Radeon Pro SSG board. This adds a 2TB SSD to the WX 9100 to use as memory – allowing it to be used for real-time editing of 8K video, when the video is story on the SSD.

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HP has announced a professional-level version of its VR backpack PC. The company announced the Omen X back in June for gamers - but the HP Z VR Backpack is for more professional environments, whether VR games at theme parks or training people in simulated dangerous environments 

As with the Omen X, the Z VR Backpack quickly comes out of its harness (when - and only when - you want it to) and plugs into a dock. The aim here is that those creating content to used with the backpack can move from creation to testing by picking the Z VR out of the dock and putting it into the harness (or vice versa).

Inside the Z VR is a pretty standard - if very high-spec - PC with an Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia Quadro P5200 graphics chip with 16GB of its own RAM. There are hot-swappable batteries, so you don't need to turn it off between battery changes.

The Z VR will ship in September, with prices starting at €3,000 (around £2,680).

Atom View is a new VR display engine from Nurulize that the company claims is much faster than using game engines. You import data from 3D scanners, rendered scenes and 360 footage - and Atom View combines these into a real-time VR scene in only two steps.

You can view the scene using both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive heasets, and edit the colour of elements.

Atom View's sister tool Nu Design applies its tech in a different way. It's pre-production design tool for filmmaker - whether VR or traditional - that lets directors and those working with them sketch shots in VR.

The Foundry is showing off the recently released versions 11 of its Nuke compositing software – including the expanded NukeX and NukStudio versions – and Hiero collaboration tool.

Both Nuke and NukeX get access to the Frame Server that was previously only available in the release Studio, which allows background rendering on the computer you’re working on. NukeX’s Lens Distortion node has been given an overhaul, adding support for fisheye and wide-angle lenses – as well as drawing information about a lens from multiple frames for better results. It’s also now GPU-accelerated for faster performance.

Nuke Studio has GPU-accelerated disk caching, allowing you to create smooth previews of complex scenes.

Live Groups offer a better collaborative workflow than before, says The Foundry. Both Nuke and Hiero have been upgraded to the VFX Reference Platform 2017.

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