Out of sight, out of mind, out of business." With these cautionary words Tim McElyea drives home the importance of the communications materials his company, Media Fusion Digital Media, creates for its clients in the aerospace, manufacturing and services, retail, and government sectors.
Our clients must periodically communicate what they’re doing— to their customers, to outside organizations who approve or fund their work, even to colleagues in different departments," McElyea says. "If they don’t, people won’t understand their significance and will stop appreciating their value."
The Huntsville, Alabama-based company outputs its communications materials as 3D animations, videos, multimedia presentations, and printed collateral. Since it formed in 1995, it has relied on 3ds Max software for all its 3D work. According to McElyea, 3ds Max is the only 3D software Media Fusion uses. "Our deadlines are tight—sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a few days," he says. "3ds Max provides benefits that let us quickly create great-looking 3D animations."
One of these benefits is the software’s built-in network rendering. It’s extremely fast. Without it, we wouldn’t make our deadlines," McElyea states.
Another is its reliability. "With our deadlines, we can’t afford to have a program that isn’t reliable. We’ll only use what’s reliable, proven, and works, and that’s 3ds Max."
A third benefit is the software’s memory management. "Our images average 3000x4000 pixels. But 3ds Max handles memory well, so we can work with images of that size."
The artists also appreciate the software’s flexibility. "3ds Max offers several modeling methods, including polygons, boxes, and splines," McElyea says, "so our artists can use whichever method they prefer." He adds that this flexibility extends throughout the core package—from animation and texturing to lighting and rendering. This makes 3ds Max software a perfect tool for Media Fusion’s technical artists, who "don’t like to be forced into a box, but prefer to pick which methods and techniques work best for them, and for the projects they’re working on."
And those projects vary widely. Recently the company completed an eight-minute piece, primarily in 3ds Max, for the US Army’s Fixed Wing Project Management Office. "They needed an inter-agency communications tool to inform other Army personnel, as well as contractors, about their airplanes’ capabilities," McElyea says.
The company also created a six-minute informational piece for the department of Housing and Urban Development to promote the Federal Housing Administration loans available through HUD. "Several programs help people realize the dream of homeownership," McElyea explains. "A loan originator will promote whatever programs are in his portfolio. If the FHA program isn’t among them, it won’t get promoted." To help HUD promote these loans, the artists created a video punctuated with effects created in 3ds Max. In one scene a loan application folds into a house, origami style; in another, a child blows on a dandelion, and the seeds form into a house. "The dandelion shot was quite challenging," says McElyea, who notes that the Scene Genie and Particle Studio 3ds Max plug-ins were particularly helpful for camera tracking and advanced particle handling.
Media Fusion’s animations also are used as evidence in court. Recently, artists created a 30-minute animation that explained to the Texas Superior Court how one company infringed on the intellectual property rights of another. In just two weeks, two artists devised the concept and created the animated presentation, using visual metaphors to explain how the infringement occurred. Media Fusion’s 3ds Max animations also have been used for accident reconstruction purposes.
According to McElyea, Media Fusion’s biggest client is NASA. Most recently, artists created a four-minute CG animation explaining a new concept for an orbital space plane. "NASA hadn’t developed the plans, but knew this plane would be launched on a specific rocket," McElyea says. "The animation had to be accurate enough to show how it would function, but generic enough that it didn’t endorse any vendors’ solutions."
In under two weeks the artists produced an animation of eight launches, four docking sequences, four re-entries, and four landings. "We couldn’t have met this deadline if 3ds Max wasn’t so reliable," McElyea enthuses. Additional NASA projects are highlighted in McElyea’s new book, "A Vision of Future Space Transportation" (available on Amazon.com from Apogee Books). Media Fusion created the book’s nearly 200 images (also viewable on an accompanying CD) exclusively in 3ds Max.