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You are here: Homepage /  inHouse /  Behind the Screenz / Michael Buettner: mbFeatherTools
Michael Buettner: mbFeatherTools
 
 
Posted: Dec 05, 2011
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Softimage
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The Area:
Hello and welcome, Michael Buettner :)
Most people know you as the creator of mbFeatherTools, an animation plugin for Softimage. But before mbFeatherTools was born, what kind of work were you doing?
Michael:
I was freelancing as Rigger and Animator. A year before I created the plugin, I had also worked as a 3D generalist doing everything from modeling to compositing, so I had some knowledge on how to use XSI hair and Syflex.
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The Area:
When did you get started with computers; do you have a programming background?
Michael:
I started with computers and programming when I was a child, maybe 11 or 12 years old. During the 90's, I devoured one programming book after another and started making games and tools for fun.
The Area:
What are some of the professional gigs that you have behind you; specifically what did you do as programmer, lead animator and character TD?
Michael:
In Austria, I programmed a stereo-3D flight simulator called "Humphrey II". In San Diego, I worked as lead animator and character TD on an FPS game. Other highlights were "Mauli" (for television), which I produced with SI from start to finish, and "Urmel II" - an animated feature film that I had the pleasure to work on as an animator using Maya.
The Area:
What was your first 3D application -- did you start out with Softimage|3D? How did you get access to 3D software back in the day, since it was much harder to get hardware+software before...
Michael:
My first 3D application was 3ds Max 4. Before that, I also spent a lot of time with 3D level editors. I enjoyed the fact that you could create anything in 3D that could be imagined. When I worked in San Diego, we were all using 3ds Max and then decided to switch to Softimage|XSI. Since then, SI has always been my personal choice.
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The Area:
There are numerous other 3D animation packages today - why do you prefer SI over them for the work that you do?
Michael:
I have worked with many packages and I simply like SI the most, especially for its rigging and animation capabilities, and of course, ICE.
The Area:
Softimage has a long history in 3D animation from the time it was famously used in animating the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park back in 1993. As a long time user of SI, you have witnessed the software evolve and innovate in the film and games industry. What were some animation highlights for you in your career, thanks to SI development?
Michael:
Yes, GATOR is really incredible. There were many situations where it saved the day. For example, let's assume you want to have a detailed color pattern on a bird. The feathers need to precisely copy the color of the underlying bird mesh. This is hard to achieve with particles, because you can only set a single color for each particle. As soon as I have the (particle) feathers converted to a single polygon mesh, I can simply "Gator" the UVs over from the original bird mesh as you see in the image.
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The Area:
Two years ago, you announced the commercial release of mbFeatherTools, a plugin that allows you to style, animate and achieve realistic movements and motion of bird feathers. What inspired and motivated you to develop a specific feather simulation tool?
Michael:
When ICE was announced, I saw a video that showed some kind of distance-based styling. This got me very interested and almost one year later, I found the time to learn how to use ICE. What really motivated me in the beginning was the elegance of ICE and how fast I was able to achieve things. Once I had the basic styling features done, I decided to take it a step further and add dynamics to the system. When I realized what a huge time-saver this plugin could be, I decided to share it with the rest of the world. Turning those compounds into a commercial product involved lots of bug-fixing and polishing. A documentation and copy protection had to be written and the setup process had to be automated, so that people could add the feather system to their scene by pressing a single button.
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The Area:
How long was mbFeatherTools in development?
Michael:
It took about 2-3 months until the initial release was done. This doesn't sound like much, but you have to consider I worked on the plugin 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Area:
While designing and writing mbFeatherTools, how did you come up with all the controls and attributes; did you work with other users/artists to beta-test and streamline the tool?
Michael:
This is a tough question because it's hard to remember these details 2 years after developing something. I tested everything myself and whenever I could think of a function or feature that would be beneficial on more than one instance, I added it.
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The Area:
What was the initial reaction to the first release (v1.0)?
Michael:
It was great! Everyone liked the plugin. People bought it and wrote me stuff like "WOW! This is awesome!". Nowadays, that is still the first reaction of new customers.
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The Area:
Asides from simulating feathers, as seen in Fable 3 (those were some awesome flying chickens ;-)), what are the other applications that this tool can be used to do?
Michael:
To name a few: fur, leaves and flora in general.
When you start to think of mbFeatherTools as an advanced scattering plugin with easy control over the rotations, you will notice that there are endless opportunities.
The Area:
Are there other commercial or open-source solutions similar to mbFeatherTools, and if so, what sets your tool apart from the others?
Michael:
There are few solutions I know of, and they tend to be slow on performance and slow to set up. mbFeatherTools is lightning fast (thanks to ICE), easy to use, very stable, and best of all: it has many solutions to the usual problems (e.g. jittering, inter-collisions) already built-in.
The Area:
Can you share some features that we can expect to see added to future release of mbFeathertools?
Michael:
I have been playing with the idea of adding a combing feature like you have in XSI hair. Any ideas on how to best implement this are appreciated. I can't promise anything though. After all, you wouldn't really comb a bird, would you? I always have an open ear for feature ideas. The people who are using the tool helped to improve it by giving their feedback and sharing their ideas.
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The Area:
As an animator, what custom tools would you like to see developed that will help in your daily work? Are you already working on some of them ;-)?
Michael:
I would love to have tabs inside ICE compounds, and an Undo function that even works perfectly on scenes that have a lot of dependencies. Maybe this could be done as a custom tool by taking snapshots of parameters of the whole scene, but it would probably be very slow.
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The Area:
Asides from mbFeatherTools, what do you do with your time?
Michael:
When I'm not animating or rigging (or giving mbFeatherTools support), I create mobile games. I use SI quite a lot for that, e.g. for Necta Collecta, I used it to create pre-rendered characters and environments, and for the current project I'm using it to render out animations that serve as rotoscoping reference for 2D artwork.
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The Area:
Michael, thank you for providing the community with a great tool. We look forward to updates and future releases!
Michael:
Thanks for the interview, and thanks to the community for all the support!

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Posted by joshpurple on Dec 29, 2011 at 06:37 AM
Great article, Thank you Michael Buettner and the AREA :) .